Pauw praises Cork duo as the Republic of Ireland prepare to face Ukraine

Republic of Ireland boss Vera Pauw has praised the two Cork players in her squad, Megan Connolly and Denise O’Sullivan, as the Girls in Green prepare for Friday’s vital European Championship Qualifier.

Ireland face Ukraine in Kiev with a 5pm kick off Irish time. A point for Pauw’s side will be enough to secure a playoff spot.

The Brighton and Hove Albion duo of Connolly and O’Sullivan are set to start on Friday, and Pauw was full of praise for the Rebels when asked about them by Cork’s RedFM.

“They’re playing in the spine – that says it all.

“Megan has developed over the last year immensely. From a player that was in the line up and did well, but didn’t give that something extra – she’s now really a core player, one of the first players on the [team] sheet.

“She has worked so hard to become that staple player, she’s backing up other players constantly. With Megan behind, you always know that if you make a mistake she will  be there. And that gives our backline a chance to focus on the space behind them instead of the space in front of them. So she’s a core player in the covering of the attack.

“Denise has it all. She’s in the attacking portent, but also she’s starting the hunt in midfield when we’re defending. That combination of those two players makes our midfield very strong in my opinion.”

Saoirse Noonan has been in a fine run of form for Cork City, winning the player of the month for September for her performances with the Rebel Army. And while Pauw says she’s aware of Noonan’s efforts, she won’t be calling her up just for the sake of it.

“The thing is you have to be better in your position to be able to qualify [for the team]. If you look at the competition she has in her position – there’s Denise O’Sullivan, Megan Connolly, Ruesha Littlejohn – so her issue is that she has lot of competition in her position.

“The national team is not to reward someone who is doing well, the national team is to select the best players, and she needs to be better than those.

“So what does she need to do? I would say train with boys. So that she gets that resistance, so she can make the last step.

“Just know that we see every single game, so I do follow her very closely.”

Pauw has been in charge for over a year, and is pleased with the progress the team has made under her stewardship.

“If I look back at where we were a year ago and where the players are now, you can see the gap between the Irish based players and the processionals is getting closer. They train so hard and they do so much to get to a level closer to the professionals. And you can see that in the selection, whenever players are ready they come in, and when they come in they do really well.”

Ireland defeated Ukraine 3-2 in Pauw’s first game in charge, and the former Scotland and Netherlands boss says their opponents took them for granted a little in Dublin.

“They underestimated us. I think that they were overwhelmed by our structure and the way we were approaching them.

“When I see how they play against Greece in the latest game [Ukraine won 4-0], and their perseverance to get as many goals as they could and the way that they did it, I learned more from that than our first game.

“Our first game, everybody wanted so much to get a positive result. There was such an intensity, the whole stadium felt this intensity, the crowd brought it onto the pitch. And now the intensity comes just by the fact that this is a final – it’s a final for Ukraine and for us.

“That Ukraine squad are really ready to go for it – but we are too.”

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