From “kicked out of the team” to World Cup hopes and “realizing my dream” at Man United

The World Cup dream is more than ever for Diane Caldwell and the Republic of Ireland women’s national team.

Vera Pau team is located in the annex area. Small group win over Georgia on Monday [KO 4pm Irish time, live on RTÉ 2] He put them second and in the box office seat ahead of September’s massive double match against Finland and Slovakia.

Girls In Green have never reached a major tournament, the closest they came to a European Championship playoff against Iceland in 2008.

“I wasn’t part of that playoff,” recalls Caldwell, who played the second half of the 2021/22 season with childhood club Manchester United. “I was removed from the team after a disagreement with Noel King so I wasn’t part of that group.”

To get back, it required a new director. Su Ronan, she was my underage manager and brought me in right away. She said, ‘You should never have gone out.’

The extensively experienced defender has been there ever since – mostly, anyway – with 85 caps to her name and counting.

Understandably, there’s no shortage of incentive to secure a coveted spot for the final as it is, but that exile and her absence last time around are all the more motivation for 33-year-old Caldwell.

It does not mean that she will say it directly. Always about the team, not the individual.

“That’s our goal as a group, and that’s our expectation now that the group winner’s place is gone. A break point can still be achieved, but we’re not there yet. There are still three matches left, we haven’t done anything yet.

“It was a great result against Sweden [who have qualified] But it’s these next three games that will determine whether we get a cut-off point. We have to treat every match as it comes and focus 100% on every game. The next stage is always the most important, which is Georgia now.”

A thigh injury left Caldwell out of that massive 1-1 draw with Sweden in Gothenburg, and she was forced to watch the action from Manchester amid a rehab period.

“It was weird to look from the outside for once,” said a Balbrian native. “I was a big fan and very proud to watch the performance and they showed their abilities. Great result, but we know we have another level to reach.”

However, the ultimate goal of making it to a major tournament “is becoming a little more achievable,” she admits, acknowledging the best group of players Ireland has ever had.

Having been a regular starter for most of her international career, Caldwell has found herself in and out of the XI recently. Savannah McCarthy, who was sidelined with a knee cruciate ligament injury, was favored in the early stages of the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, while Pau is not short of options in defence.

This can only be a positive, Caldwell nodded, focusing on the fierce competition within the team as it deals with lack of choice.

“Overall the Irish team has always had a good defensive line and competition for places. That is what makes the team strong, all over the field and they have reached that stage of healthy competition and every team needs that to get to the next level.

“I think I value my mental strength as one of my highest traits. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without being mentally strong, that’s for sure. I’ve always faced challenges throughout my career in different ways, the choice was small of them, so it’s just something you have to deal with. As an athlete in the first game. You just have to stay focused on your strengths, improve on your weaknesses and try to do everything you can to get your moment and seize this opportunity.”

I did exactly that at United; The big Red Devils fan joined in January after a stint in America with North Carolina Courage.

Caldwell in the Manchester United match.

Source: Alamy Stock Photo

She smiles, “It was everything I wish it was and more.” “As a lifelong fan, it was my dream to play for them and to wear this shirt. I never thought it would be possible, given the lack of a file [women’s] team until recently. It was an amazing achievement for me personally, it’s hard to describe in words, but I’m very proud of it and a huge honor for it.

“I played every 90 minutes since my arrival until I got injured. Unfortunately, I got the injury before kick-off at Old Trafford, it was obvious missing that occasion was very bitter. But every minute I was there I cherished it. This experience – whatever happens in the long run, happens, but I achieved my dream and no one can take that away from me.”

His contract will expire this month, so unless a new deal is agreed, Caldwell’s future plans will expire for now.

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She looked stable and undoubtedly did work for injury-hit Mark Skinner and Manchester United in the Women’s Premier League, but having also enjoyed successful spells in Germany and Iceland, as well as the United States, it will be interesting to see her next move.

“Nothing has been decided yet about my future, with Man United or anyone else. Right now, that’s not on my mind, I’m just focused on what I can do here with Ireland. A different team, different goals. That’s all I’m focused on right now. .

“I’m not really thinking about the club, the main focus is on Georgia because the next game is the most important.”

Having “perfect preparation” in Antalya, Turkey, acclimating to the sweltering heat and outsmarting the Philippines in a friendly match, Ireland was boosted by the last leap to a record-equaling 27 in the FIFA world rankings.

“It’s always good to see but we haven’t achieved anything yet,” Caldwell confirms. “We have not yet qualified for the European Championship or the World Cup and that is our hope and our goal. The rankings take care of themselves as a byproduct of results and performance. We need to get a performance right. It is part of the journey, not our goal.”

She’s expecting a different challenge than Georgia, which ranks 124th.

The miserable Georgian team lost 11-0 in Tallaght the last time, conceding 41 goals and scoring zero in their six defeats so far this season.

“They learn and get better every time they play,” Caldwell concluded. “They’ve had heavy defeats but they’ve gained so much experience so they’re only going to get better. They’re at home so it’s not going to be easy, we need to be smart and prepare for it. There’s no easy international, so we need to be ready for that.”


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