Republic of Ireland 5 Northern Ireland 1
International debut for Seanna Cooke
The Republic of Ireland Senior Women's Team got off to a winning start in Group C of the Cyprus Cup this afternoon in Larnaca when they defeated Northern Ireland 5-1.
It was biggest win in nine years by the Senior Women's Team and four of the five Irish goalscorers notched their first goals at senior international level while Raheny United's Seana Cook made her senior debut.
Ireland manager Sue Ronan fielded her strongest team from the 22 squad members and the starting line-up showed four changes from the eleven who began the team's last outing back in December against Olympic champions USA. Northern Ireland beat Norway during the recent European Championship qualifiers and came into this tournament hoping to build on that result by taking a few more scalps.
Ronan spent both of Tuesday's training sessions working on attack and the hard work reaped early dividends as Shannon Smyth and Aine O'Gorman started brightly on the wings and gave the Northern Ireland full-backs plenty of problems as they started getting crosses into the box.
O'Gorman had a hand in the first goal after 11 minutes when a corner was half-cleared and, after receiving the ball from Denise O'Sullivan, she whipped in a first time left-footed cross to the back post where it was met by Diane Caldwell and she smashed the ball right-footed into the far corner.
The Northern Ireland goal led a charmed life before they eventually conceded a second goal on 26 minutes as a move straight off the training ground resulted in O'Gorman's corner being firmly headed home by defender Louise Quinn for her second international goal.
The Republic could have been further than 2-0 ahead by half-time and Caldwell went close just after the break but they were rocked on 58 minutes when Northern Ireland debutant Alana McShane scrambled the ball home from a corner.
However, the Republic responded magnificently to that set-back and finished very strongly over the last half-hour with Megan Campbell drilling home a free-kick from the edge of the box to restore their two goal advantage after 70 minutes.
Six minutes later Shannon Smyth took advantage of hesitation in the Northern Ireland defence to set up a chance for herself which she executed with a clever lob of Higgins in the Northern Ireland goal.
The Republic saved the best until last when they scored a contender for goal of the season two minutes into injury time. The move began when substitute Ciara Grant won possession off a Northern Ireland throw-in to kick-start a move that involved 11 passes before Stephanie Roche flicked the final ball into the path of Ruesha Littlejohn and she hammered it into the top corner to give Ireland their biggest victory since the 5-0 win over Malta in a European Championship qualifier in 2004.
"That was an absolutely fabulous goal and I've watched it several times on the laptop since the game ended," said Ireland manager Sue Ronan.
"It was a great performance and exactly the start we wanted to make in the opening game of the tournament. I think it is going to do wonders for the squad's confidence as they were a bit down on themselves after the European Championships. We looked a little vulnerable after Northern Ireland scored to make it 2-1 but the girls showed their character and responded magnificently and that was a major positive for me out of this game."
"We weren't sure where the goals were going to come from before the game as we came into the tournament with only five of the 22 having scored at this level and they only had 15 between them. It's fantastic that four of the girls got their first goals at senior level and that's going to be another boost for the team's confidence."
Ireland's next game is on Friday against South Africa who lost 2-0 to South Korea in the other Group C game today..
Republic of Ireland: Emma Byrne (c) (Arsenal), Louise Quinn (Eskilstuna United DFF), Yvonne Tracy (Arsenal), Megan Campbell (Raheny United), Meabh de Burca (Eskilstuna United DFF), Diane Caldwell (Alvadsnes FC), Ruesha Littlejohn (Glasgow City), Denise O'Sullivan (Cork Women's FC), Shannon Smyth (Amazon Grimstad FK), Aine O'Gorman (Peamount United), Sara Lawlor (Peamount United).
Subs: Stephanie Roche (Peamount United) for Lawlor (72), Ciara Grant (Raheny United) for O'Sullivan (78), Seana Cooke (Raheny United) for de Burca (80), Noelle Murray (Raheny United) for Tracy (87)
Cyprus Women's Cup Group C
Republic of Ireland 5 Northern Ireland 1
South Korea 2 South Africa 0
P W D L F A Pts
Rep of Ireland 1 1 0 0 5 1 3
South Korea 1 1 0 0 2 0 3
South Africa 1 0 0 1 0 2 0
Northern Ireland 1 0 0 1 1 5 0
Friday, March 8: Republic of Ireland v South Africa, Tasos Marko Stadium, Paralimni, 12.30pm (Irish time)
Monday, March 11: South Korea v Republic of Ireland, Tasos Marko, Paralimni, 3.30pm (Irish time)
Wednesday March 13: Finals Day, Details TBC.