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Ireland players made World Cup ‘in spite’ of Vera Pauw

(Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Longtime Ireland defender Diane Caldwell says that the team made their first World Cup “in spite” of former coach Vera Pauw.

The team parted ways with Pauw following the World Cup. Controversy had marred her final months with the team, which included butting heads with team captain Katie McCabe during the team’s World Cup run. Before joining Ireland, Pauw led the NWSL’s Houston Dash. A July report from The Athletic detailed Pauw’s behavior with the club, which players called “abusive” and “belittling,” though Pauw strongly denied the allegations.

Under Pauw, the team made its first appearance at the World Cup. But Caldwell said Tuesday that it wasn’t because of Pauw that the team made it. Instead, she says they weren’t put in a place to succeed by the coach.

“From my position, as a pretty experienced player, I don’t think it was up to the standard expected at international level,” Caldwell said. “I think the results and performances that we got were in spite of Vera being our coach.”

Instead, she says that a group of players who were “destined for success” happened to come together at the right time. She says players voiced their concerns about certain conditions following the 2022 European qualifying campaign, which was unsuccessful. Instead, Pauw was offered a contract extension.

“After the European campaign [in 2021], myself and Katie [McCabe] also reflected with Ruud Dokter [then the FAI’s high performance director] about certain aspects that needed to be improved and changed, but ultimately that fell on deaf ears and she got a contract extension,” she said.

“I think preparation for games could have been better, physical preparation, opponent analysis, match tactics, in-game match tactics, changes, systems of play,” she continued, noting that players had asked Pauw to “professionalizing” elements of the team’s preparations but that it “was hard to get change.”

Eileen Gleeson was tasked with leading the team in the interim as FAI looks for a new coach. Caldwell said Tuesday that the change has been welcomed, as well as additional investment from their FA.

“I’m very happy there is change and it gives us all a new lease of life,” Caldwell said. “Straight away, the level of professionalism. There are three new roles that have been introduced that we haven’t had before. That is a massive sign of intent from the association that we want to raise the level.

“It is a new beginning, and with the changes the FAI has made with the new roles, it just shows intent and standards are going to be raised. They have listened to the stakeholders in this team and realized that these girls are good but we can be getting even more out of them. They can be performing at a higher level and be achieving more success than what they have been.”