Ireland look to capitalise on momentum for women's football ahead of Thursday's Euro 2021 draw

Tue, Feb 19 2019

Ireland and Arsenal star Louise Quinn poses for selfies with fans following the World Cup qualifying win over Northern Ireland in Tallaght Stadium. Credit: Peter Fitzpatrick (ETPhotos)

Ahead of the draw for the qualifying group stage for EURO 2021 this week, the Ireland squad may well have to find balance between a calculator & Google Maps in preparation for the latest effort to reach a major tournament for the first time.

The arrangements of co-efficient rankings places Ireland in 20th position, putting the national team in pot 3 for the seeded draw which takes place in Nyon, Switzerland this Thursday (21st February).

There will be nine qualifying groups: two groups with six teams and seven groups with five teams. The respective winners of each group will qualify automatically.

The three runners-up with superior records will also qualify, then the remaining six runners-up will enter a play-off. Got all that?

The finer detail requires full attention as a record number of 48 nations go into the draw to compete for the right to play in the tournament, which will be hosted by England.

Despite the comfort in proximity should qualification be attained, the possibility of logistical unpleasantness we regularly associate with Irish sides awaiting faith in a European Draw very much exists.

Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kosovo (making their UEFA Women’s EURO debut) all sit as potential opponents, but neither squad nor management will have much concern over unfamiliar passport stamps should the resulting fixtures be kind towards eventual accomplishment.

The draw comes at an interesting time for the women’s game in Ireland, mainly centred around the broadened scope that the senior team created during the recent World Cup Qualifiers.

Then, a 0-0 draw against the Netherlands (current European Champions) on the back of a healthy start to the campaign prompted belief that the World Cup Finals were within reach.

The curiosity resulted in a record-breaking attendance of 4,047 paying customers for the return fixture in Tallaght Stadium last April. A 2-0 defeat ensued.

The campaign eventually lost its legs but not without its legacy.

The conversation offers many sub-sections of debate regarding progression. At a time when the very fabric of women in sport is encouraged to be promoted, arguments may play out that qualification to a major tournament is required to bring further investment, or equally that further investment is required to bring qualification to a major tournament.

Regardless of the outright leader between chicken and egg, the upcoming qualifiers must be faced with optimism as an opportunity for Colin Bell and his players to spark large and keep inquiring eyes in focus.

The market decides on relevance and consumption. Over the past 18 months that market has edged the door slightly ajar, allowing a fresh breath to enliven the prosperity of female athletes.

From a Irish football perspective, winning contributes to brand value. Taking ‘selfies’ with fans does too.

As does giving signed jerseys to younger supporters a long with team photos with Uachtarán na hÉireann on the pitch after the match. Katie McCabe, Leanne Kiernan and Megan Connolly become names that are recognised. It all helps.

Commercial investment in female footballers is new territory, but for potential customers it’s arguably low-risk, low-cost and ultimately in vogue.

A leading example of the clean investment applicable to female sport is the partnership between retail giant LIDL and Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA).

The #serioussupport hashtag is the foundation of the campaign and the anchor is based on one particular: the attendance of the All-Ireland Ladies Final in Croke Park.

It has been growing every year since 2014, reaching 50,141 last year, and this is the gleaming outlay in the sponsor’s promotion.

How many people attended the first round games? The league encounters? It doesn’t matter, the market decided and decided impressively in the end.

Covering all angles in female sport, the 20x20 campaign that launched recently is set about creating a cultural shift on societal perception of girls and women in sport.

The targets established look at increasing media coverage, female participation and attendances at female events by 20% by the end of 2020.

It’s defined with a rounded target but is already visible in social media circles with inclusive content from athletes and coaches at every level. The midway report on the initiative will make interesting reading.

As Ireland awaits the pickings of a demanding qualification campaign that will kick off in September, a challenging run of fixtures awaits no matter the travel arrangements.

Contests with one of the top seeds awaits, possibly the Netherlands once again?

Perhaps, but to hasten the experiences in belief that rose through Colin Bell’s leadership last year, the short-term progression may see Ireland increase its reward by 20% and find its anchor through qualification to Euro 2021.

That way the girls decide it all themselves.

Seedings

Pot 1: France, Germany, Netherlands (holders), Spain, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Scotland, Italy

Pot 2: Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, Russia, Wales, Ukraine, Finland, Czech Republic

Pot 3: Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus

Pot 4: Turkey, Slovakia, Croatia, Northern Ireland, Greece, Israel, Kazakhstan, Albania, Moldova

Pot 5: Faroe Islands, Malta, FYR Macedonia, Estonia, Montenegro, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Kosovo