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Katie McCabe and Republic of Ireland coach Eileen Gleeson Alamy Stock Photo
euro 2025

'There were cries of 'no’ from the Polish when they thought it was them in our group'

Eileen Gleeson on being drawn against France, England and Sweden, and the possibility of playing some games in the Aviva.

IRISH TEAMS are certainly no strangers to being placed in difficult draws.

For the women, in the 2023 World Cup, they were widely believed to be in the ‘group of death,’ while the 2019 qualifying draw featuring Norway and Netherlands was similarly difficult.

For the men, the Euro 2012 draw, the last Euros qualifying draw towards the end of the Stephen Kenny era and being paired with Netherlands and Portugal during Mick McCarthy’s tenure are among the standouts.

But today’s draw for Euro 2025 is arguably the toughest an Irish senior team has ever faced.

In France, England and Sweden, they have been put with the third, fourth and fifth-ranked teams in the world respectively.

Yet qualification is far from an impossible task.

While not many people will be tipping Ireland to secure one of the top two spots necessary for a direct spot in Switzerland next year, they will automatically qualify for the playoffs if they finish third or fourth.

“There’s no getting away from it and it is probably the hardest group any Irish side has been placed in before,” manager Eileen Gleeson said in reaction to the draw.

“And that’s the general feeling around the auditorium as well, I got plenty of looks from other associations. It is what it is.

“It’s basically a Euro semi-final for us in every game. Also, it’s a challenge, there is excitement.

“Is [the new format] a convoluted process? Perhaps, but it still provides an opportunity for everybody.”

There was palpable relief elsewhere when it became clear that Ireland were the unfortunate team announced to complete ‘the group of death’.

“There were cries of ‘no’ from the Polish when they thought it was them out in our group. There is no escaping it, it is the toughest group we could have got. Did we want to be in it? Maybe not. But we are here now. 

“I’ve just talked with the English coach as well and everyone in the group agrees that it is a tough group. Of course, we have three of the top five teams in the world. Nations League champions, Euro Champions, Olympic runners-up. What more could you ask for? As a fourth seed, they wanted to avoid us as well.

“We take positives from it in terms of the group itself. Any of those teams can take points from anybody. So maybe you won’t see a clear runaway winner within the group.”

Ireland can take encouragement from the fact that they already caused the Swedes significant problems in the last World Cup qualifiers — suffering a narrow 1-0 loss at home and drawing 1-1 away.

Gleeson also insisted the team would not prematurely resign themselves to the prospect of a bottom-two spot in the group.

“In terms of the play-off, nothing is guaranteed there, so it’s not like we’ll have a cavalier approach to this group stage and then we have the play-off in our back pocket. It’s football, it’s not to underestimate any other team in any other league, there is excellent quality in League B, which would be the second round of the playoffs.

“For the moment we have an opportunity to qualify out of the group, potentially, within the top two, and that’s what we’ll be trying to do in this phase.

“In terms of approach and style of play, all of that is also dependent on context and the squad you have, the players you have available, and the opposition you are playing. So all of those things will be part of the preparation towards the games once we know who we have and when we have them.”

All group games take place between 3 April and 16 July 2024. The draw for the playoffs will then be made on 19 July, followed by Round 1 (23–29 October 2024) and Round 2 (27 November–3 December 2024) of the qualification process.

Some nations have expressed frustration about the tight turnaround between all the group games but Gleeson says it is not an issue that should be dwelt upon now.

“Ideally you would have a longer turnaround in terms of knowing who your opposition is in terms of a preparation and organisation perspective, but again we are where we are today, it is what it is and it’s all action from now.”

In addition, the dates of Ireland’s home and away group fixtures will be confirmed at a yet-to-be-determined time tomorrow while there will be a discussion in the coming days about the potential use of the Aviva Stadium.

In recent times, just one Nations League match against Northern Ireland has been hosted by the bigger venue away from their traditional home of Tallaght Stadium, but it seems likely that more will follow soon.

“I’ve explained before that we have only have certain slots in the Aviva,” Gleeson added. “The fixtures will be announced and then we can determine what slots are available for what games. They’re all super exciting and I’m sure the stadium will be packed with support.

“In terms of big games, you’ve got your pick. Whoever we’ve got there will be big games and I’ve no doubt people will come.”

So could any of the three group home matches be played in the Aviva?

“We could do any of them, yeah.”

Written by Paul Fennessy and posted on

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