The Republic of Ireland women’s team lost 1-0 in their Pinatar Cup encounter with Russia in Spain on Saturday evening.
Manager Vera Pauw rang the changes from the team that beat Poland during the week and handed notable debutants to three players as Chloe Mustaki, goalkeeper Megan Walsh and 16-year-old Abbie Larkin all earned their first senior international caps.
“It is a shame that we lost but I'm proud and pleasantly surprised by the growth by the second best team (made up of all) the players who didn't play the first match,” said Pauw who’s team found themselves a goal down after seven minutes.
The Ireland boss was keen to give all players in the squad game time across this three match tournament and Pauw proceeded on Saturday evening without Grace Maloney and Heather Payne. Both had knocks while Megan Campbell was omitted as Ireland look to manage her workload.
“The new players were supported by Diane Cantwell (who skippered the side), Áine O'Gorman and Amber Barrett who have a lot of experience but overall with such a young team and players that faced this level for the first time in their lives, I think we can be proud of the future.”
Just after the hour mark, Ireland introduced Katie McCabe, Denise O’Sullivan and Kyra Carusa into the action.
“In the second half, we changed at the end to try and get the equaliser to get some more pressure forward but the key thing of this game was for the players who do not have the opportunity to play international football often, that they could get a real good run.”
Pauw described the squad as “very emotional” with Mustaki making her debut, after her long journey back from serious health issues and, over the last two years, a serious knee injury sustained during an Ireland training camp. Mustaki was awarded the Sky Ireland player of the match.
“We were very emotional as she fought back from cancer and then when she got back her body was not stable with a lot of work to do. Under that pressure she ruptured her ACL. Then she had set back as it didn't recover in the way that we thought. It is amazing. Playing her first cap and playing the way that she did, it is fantastic.
Brighton & Hove Albion goalkeeper Megan Walsh also made her debut following her recent switch from representing England which she did at underage level. The ‘keeper made a number of fine saves during the game, thwarting the efforts of the Russian captain Nelli Korovkina on a number of occasions.
“Megan has grown this week and she does so well at club level. We are very happy she chose Ireland. She has a huge future in front of her.
Another player with a huge future is teenager Abbie Larkin who sent close to scoring on her first appearance for the senior international team.
“She could have scored from a very good individual action. We wanted to know what she was capable of already. She needs to grow both physically but getting experience in the game.
Ireland will play their final Pinatar Cup game on Tuesday when they take on Wales. Paus will look to play here strongest team. “We will go for the best team with the best balance. It will be a team that we will roll out for qualifying.”
Republic of Ireland: Megan Walsh; Diane Caldwell, Claire Walsh, Chloe Mustaki; Áine O'Gorman (Katie McCabe 65), Amber Barrett (Ruesha Littlejohn h/t), Jamie Finn, Ellen Molloy (Denise O'Sullivan 65), Isibeal Atkinson (Jess Ziu h/t); Leanne Kiernan (Lucy Quinn 83), Abbie Larkin (Kyra Carusa 65).