Ireland Head Coach Eileen Gleeson pictured, right, with her assistants Colin Healy and Emma Byrne during the friendly game against Italy in Florence in February. [Inpho/Giuseppe Fama]

Irish WNT kick off vs. France

The Irish Women’s Soccer team start that their bid to qualify for the Euro 2025 finals on Friday when they play France in Metz and then next Tuesday the English Women’s Soccer team will play their first-ever game at the Aviva and our first against England since 1987. Defender Niamh Fahey and midfielder Tyler Toland return to the squad after missing two the games against Italy and Cymru in February. Manager Eileen Gleeson has called Anna Patten  into the squad for the first time, but she is awaiting international clearance from FIFA before being declared eligible in the two games. The 24-year-old defender, who plays for Aston Villa, qualifies through her Donegal-born grandfather and Galway-born grandmother. It will be a second rendition of “God Save the King” at the Aviva following last September’s game against Northern Ireland.  

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It’s a tough group, but the Irish women are guaranteed a play-off after winning their Nations League group at the end of 2023. A full house of 51,000 is expected at the Aviva and if that happens it would be a record for women’s soccer international in Ireland. The previous best was 35,944 for the Nations League game between the “Two Irelands” at the Aviva in September. However, the record attendance for a women’s game in Ireland was in 2019 when a crowd of 56,114 saw Dublin beat Galway in the Ladies Gaelic football final at Croke Park.



After a promising 0-0 draw against Belgium on March 23 in his first game as interim manager, John O’Shea suffered a setback when his Irish team were beaten 1-0 by Switzerland in Dublin last Tuesday. Former Liverpool star Shaqiri got the only goal of the game in the 30th minute when he bent a free kick round the Irish wall and past Gavin Bazunu for his 30thinternational goal. Switzerland dominated the first half and at half-time manager Murat Yakin was able to substitute their captain Granit Xhaka. The introduction of Adam Idah and Matt Doherty made a difference to the Irish attacking options in the second half, but apart from a few corner kicks, we never really troubled Mvogo in the Swiss goal. Over the two games O’Shea gave game-time to 20 different players and introduced two new caps, Blackburn Rovers Sammie Szmodics and Middlesbrough’s Finn Azaz. Asked after the game if he would be interested in the job on a full-time basis O’Shea said: ‘‘The emphatic answer from me would be, yes. My instinct would be that I’m more than ready and capable to be a manager.’’



In what we like to term the "good old days" the GAA Championship would get under way in Gaelic Park, New York on the first Sunday in May. But many of us are having difficulty getting used to this new split season and championship football starting in the month of April. 

New York won’t have the glory this weekend as the action gets under way in Ruislip in North West London on Saturday afternoon. I’m told the reason the games in New York and London are played on different dates is to suit the GAA Go streaming service. So in the Connacht Championship it will be London versus Galway in McGovern Park, Ruislip at 3pm on Saturday, while New York will play Mayo in Gaelic Park at 3 p.m. on Sunday (see Pages 23 and 25). "No shocks expected" in the Connacht championship, but we could have a few upsets elsewhere. There are three football games in Leinster, two in Munster and one in Ulster, the famous preliminary round, where it used be said the winner rarely lifted the Anglo Celt Cup. 

After winning the Tailteann Cup last year Meath are guaranteed a place in the Sam Maguire Cup this year, but no doubt they would also like to make a bit of progress in Leinster and should also be too strong for Longford in Pearse Park on Sunday and advance to the quarter-finals where they would meet Dublin. When he was appointed Meath manager two years ago former Meath forward Colm O’Rourke said: ‘‘The ultimate aim is to beat Dublin, that was the measurement of Meath when I was playing and that hasn’t changed.’’ 

However, it’s now 14 years since Meath scored five goals to beat Dublin in the 2010 Leinster semi-final and the way Dublin are playing this year, I think that losing run for the Royals may extend to 15 years. Elsewhere in Leinster Westmeath will be fancied to beat Wicklow when they meet in Portlaoise and Wexford are home to Carlow. In Munster Cork should be too strong for Limerick at Pairc Ui Chaoimh and set up a semi-final meeting with old rivals Kerry on April 20, while the meeting of Waterford and Tipperary in Fraher Field is hard to call, as is the meeting of Monaghan and Cavan in Clones.

The National Hurling League Division One final between Clare and Kilkenny will be played in Semple Stadium, Thurles on Saturday next. It will be the first final meeting between the counties since 2005 when Kilkenny won on a score of 3-20 to 0-15. 



Mayo football manager Kevin McStay is going to great lengths to try and bring the Sam Maguire Cup back to Mayo after a 73-year wait. Now he has enlisted the services of former jockey Lisa O’Neill as sports psychologist for the Mayo footballers. O’Neill succeeds Niamh Fitzpatrick, who famously assisted Liam Griffin when Wexford won the All-Ireland hurling final in 1996. O’Neill recently graduated from SETU Waterford with a Masters in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology and she has been involved with Mayo during the League campaign. The former amateur rider, who rode Tiger Roll to Cheltenham success in the National Hunt Chase at the 2017 Festival, also works as an assistant to trainer Gordon Elliott in County Meath.