It’s been just over a year since Ireland faced Ukraine in Tallaght Stadium, in front of 5,328 screaming fans. It was Vera Pauw’s first game in charge of Ireland as she oversaw her new side secure a 3-2 win against the group’s second seeds.
Currently Ireland sit in second place. They face Ukraine in their penultimate group game knowing a point will at the very least, guarantee a play-off place. A win on the other hand, might still secure automatic qualification.
The Irish women’s team are bidding to qualify for their first ever major tournament. In 2008, Ireland were one game away from securing qualification but ultimately were defeated 3-0 by Iceland in the Uefa Euro 2009, second leg play-off. This time around West Ham and Ireland striker Kiernan feels this team is on the verge of a significant breakthrough.
“We’ve never qualified for a major tournament and this is probably our best chance. Every one of the girls is on board on that, we realise what’s to lose so we’ll be going for it,” Kiernan said.
“We’re a better team than the first game against Ukraine 12 months ago. I believe in the group of girls we have here and I think that we’ve a great chance.
“As Vera said, this is like a cup final. Of course, it is because we know how much this means, the history of getting to a play-off, so we’re all looking forward to it.
Ireland have travelled to Duisburg, Germany for a mini training camp before they embark off to Kiev for Friday’s crunch fixture.
The FAI have facilitated for a chartered flight for the 36 person team, including back-room staff to travel. It is the first time that’s been done for an Ireland women’s team and represents a massive shift in treatment for the team. In 2017, the women’s squad decided not to attend a FAI training camp in protest over the second-class treatment over the women’s team.
“It’s great for a women’s team in Ireland to be getting on a charter flight,” says 21-year-old Kiernan.
“That’s a big deal. That probably wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. It’s great that the FAI are behind us and we appreciate that, giving us the charter flight in these terrible conditions with Covid.
“They are doing that because they believe in us and we believe in us – we believe that we’re going to get a result.”
The preparation ahead of the crunch game for the squad has begun. Ireland’s players gathered in their training camp in Duisburg where they undertook fitness tests after the weekend action. All players were tested for Covid and will be tested again before flying out to Kiev on Thursday.
The 36 person team are living in a strict bubble, with isolation even from the hotel’s cleaners who are not allowed enter the player’s rooms. The squad themselves are not under strict guidelines and restrictions with social interaction outside of the training sessions.