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‘I’m fighting together with the squad to get somewhere’ – Vera Pauw targeting final qualification push

A visit to Cadbury’s, one of the key sponsors of women’s football in Ireland, can evoke images of childhood dreams of being Charlie in the chocolate factory.

empting, luxurious delights are within arm’s reach around every corner.

For those involved in the sport here, a similar sense of greedy anticipation awaits Ireland’s next stage in the gruelling journey towards their ultimate goal of World Cup qualification.

But as Vera Pauw announced her play-off squad at Cadbury’s HQ in Dublin this week, she was keenly aware that sumptuous rewards can only be hard-earned.

FIFA have not officially announced anything yet but it seems certain that next year’s World Cup prize pot will double to €60m – there have been reports that it may touch €100m but that may be unlikely.

In comparison to the forthcoming men’s World Cup, where the players will share out an astonishing €440m from FIFA’s more than €2.4bn cash reserves, it is a mere pittance.

The US have vowed to split their cumulative earnings equally following their historic agreement on equal pay. Ireland, thanks to another World Cup failure for their men, are saved that predicament.

The Irish Independent has learned that there has of yet been no formal discussions surrounding team bonuses for Vera Pauw’s squad, aside from the bonus pool payments FIFA pay to professional clubs as compensation.

Given that teams will have all costs paid for and can earn a minimum of €750k just for participation, there may be a lot of money sloshing around, with added incentives also possibly in the offing from existing sponsors Cadbury’s and Sky, as well as putative bandwagon hoppers.

Pauw herself is unmoved by any such speculation; she has yet to open talks on a new deal.

That expires in mid-2023 but, such is her determination to achieve history with this squad, she fully intends to be busy next summer.

“No because I don’t want that. I’m focusing on this campaign, this campaign ends in the summer.

“My whole body, my whole being, my whole feeling, my whole senses are related to the end of the summer. Not related to that.

“I’m fighting together with the squad to get somewhere. If you are in that process, you don’t step out.

“That is our goal, we want to go to the World Cup. We want to, we fight to get to the World Cup.

“We feel we want to go, we go to the edges to go the World Cup. So in that process, you don’t step out. It’s against my whole being. I just don’t do that.”

Her squad feel much the same and it will fall to others, such as the PFAI, to fight their collective corner, in the same manner that this team initially achieved respect, back in 2017 and then a measure of equality in receiving the same fees for international duty as the men.

Were Pauw’s women to take the next step in their journey and clinch a berth at a maiden major tournament, they would become the outstanding international story of 2023, with the Australia and New Zealand event set to be the grandest global showpiece.

“You see the sponsors that we have now. If you look around here at Cadbury’s, this has never been done.

“They are concentrating on the adult grassroots and that is as important as the national team. The majority of football is at grassroots and for the people to enjoy it. They watch our team and become inspired and before there was no opportunities but now there is huge activities because of our sponsor.

“And then we have our role as a national team so it works hand in hand. One is not more important than the other.

“If you know me now, I find the grassroots as important as the elite game even though the elite game is my responsibility

“So yes getting to the World Cup will bring in sponsors who want to work harder. It will bring facilities and leagues.

“The whole game will explode.”

Her side must first light the fuse.

Their immediate priority must be to negotiate a play-off on October 11th against either Scotland or, more likely, last summer’s European Championship quarter-finalists Austria, who meet in Hampden Park five days before in a first round of play-offs.

Even if Ireland win that, their place is not assured, as only two of three final play-off winners are guaranteed their spot, based on their qualifying record thus far.

Based on those standings, Ireland lie currently third behind Switzerland and Iceland, the two countries most feel are the likeliest automatic qualifiers.

This would mean Ireland are then forced into a ten-team confederation play-off in New Zealand early next year; an arduous prospect certainly but, given the calibre of opponent they will encounter there, it should secure them the status they crave.

“We deal with it,” says Pauw of the impossibly convoluted system. “We take it game by game and we just see whoever is next. But I don’t think they will ever do this again. I am not the only one, every country is complaining about it.

“Let’s say Scotland win, they have two home games with all the revenues, with the advantage of playing at home two times.

“I would rather have played at home two times, having perhaps Bosnia and the second game at home also. And we have the better coefficient.

“I don’t think they will ever do this again. It’s the same for the game between Portugal and Belgium. Portugal could play twice at home.

“it doesn’t make me less confident. It’s a final and like we played against Sweden away, like we played Finland away, like we played Finland at home, there is no difference in our preparation or in how we feel.

“But I’m talking here about fair competition.”

She can separate the anger at officialdom from her determined leadership of a side imperceptibly growing with every single obstacle placed in their path.

From Scotland to Holland and South Africa, Pauw has managed to secure a major tournament qualification in the second campaign of every country she has managed – this is her second in charge of the Irish.

“It looks that way from the outside but we take it game by game. It’s a huge challenge but for us another one. It’s the next step and we need to be at our best.”

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