Irish long-shots eye final
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The Republic of Ireland have added a bit of extra sunshine here in the Caribbean. Playing in their first women’s finals, the Irish youngsters overcame a demoralising opening loss to Brazil to take top spot in an exceedingly complicated section. Now, as found out in a chat with defender Megan Campbell, the smiling ladies from the Emerald Isle are hoping there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow here in T&T.

“Hopefully we can go all the way to the final,” said Campbell, scorer of Ireland’s first goal in the 3-0 win against Ghana that saw them clinch first place in Group D. If the surprise UEFA runners-up qualifying do manage to go the distance, it will be in large part down to their long-range shooting and high- pressure approach.

Campbell’s opening goal against the Africans was a virtual carbon copy of the one she scored to down mighty Germany in the semi-finals of the European championship in June. Nearly 40 yards out and way off near the touchline, few footballers would have thought to have a crack at goal. “We knew Ghana had a small keeper, so I just gave it a whack. But it was meant to be a cross,” the brunette with the charming smile admitted with a chuckle. “Luckily it flew into the net instead.”

The celebration that followed was as impressive as the goal itself, with Campbell simulating punches and ‘knocking out’ all of her teammates, who tumbled to the pitch. “It’s just a bit of fun,” she laughed, amid chanting and singing from her mates down the tunnel. “We’re only here once in a lifetime, so we might as well enjoy it.”

We just want to keep doing what we’re doing and getting better.
Ireland defender Megan Campbell

If there was a touch of luck to the fifth-minute opener, Stacie Donnelly and Aileen Gilroy’s goals were ruthlessly intentional, with the ball flying into the top corner from a long way out. “Long-range shooting comes naturally to this group of girls, and it’s a big part of what we do well,” added Campbell, who gave coach Noel King a perfect birthday present with the win over Ghana in Tobago. “We focus on it in practice to try to keep sharp and make it perfect. It’s hard to score goals in football so you have to get them however you can.” Siobhan Killeen’s prowess from outside the box also on display in the group stage with a cracking winner against Canada.

“We pressure the ball a lot,” added Campbell, touching on another of the team’s great qualities. They have a fighting spirit and a true team ethic as strong as any here at these finals. Pressuring the opposition constantly, from strikers Donnelly and Denise O’Sullivan all the way to the back, the Republic make frustrating opponents. “Sometimes you can get the ball back off the other team and catch them out. It’s a big part of our game, pressing high up the field. We attack and defend as one and you saw how it worked out against Ghana.”

Whether or not the Republic's long-distance heroics and high-pressure style can take them all the way to a first-ever FIFA final remains to be seen. But Japan would do well to mind the ball in their quarter-final in Arima on 17 September. If they don’t, the girls in green will be more than happy to take it off them and rifle it into the back of the net from a great distance. As Campbell concluded: “We just want to keep doing what we’re doing and getting better.”