While reaching the World Cup for the first time was a remarkable achievement for this Ireland team, they will be somewhat disappointed with the way the tournament has played out.
There is no doubt that they could have come away with something from their first two games against Australia and Canada, both of which ended in one-goal defeats. Unfortunately, those results eliminated them from contention for the knockout rounds before they even play their final group game against Nigeria tomorrow.
In the end, it was a familiar issue that has plagued Ireland in this tournament. The team struggle to score goals, something that has been a problem for quite some time. They are often at a loss if they do not score first in a given game and rely heavily on set-pieces to create any sort of scoring opportunities.
Their tactical setup probably doesn't help in this regard, with Vera Pauw putting defensive solidity well above attacking flair when setting up the team. In fact, some of the comments she has made in recent times suggests that she feels her players are not good enough to prioritise attacking football.
All of this is contributing to increasing questions around her future.
Doubts increase over Vera Pauw's Ireland future
Pauw's Ireland contract expires in the coming weeks, with no progress with the FAI when it comes to agreeing on new terms. Speaking ahead of the Nigeria game, the Dutchwoman hinted at some growing frustrations over her current situation.
She simply responded 'yes' when asked if she wanted more clarity from the FAI around her position, also saying:
I have not heard yet, but I have been clear to the FAI, to everyone, to the public. I am preparing for a game and I have not heard yet.
I am here in a tournament and I have said I want only the performance here. I'm a professional so my personal issues do not matter at all at this moment. We have a huge game on Monday, and I mean that. I won’t even want to talk at this moment.
All my energy needs to go into getting this group ready again for a world-class performance.
In light of these comments, FAI CEO Jonathan Hill declined a request to speak to the media after the press conference earlier today.
Some have suggested that this Ireland side have come as far as they can under the current management team, with fresh ideas needed to bring to them to the next level. In saying that, it would be a massive risk if the FAI opted to replace the most successful manager in the team's history.
If the Association have been non-committal surrounding Pauw's future, recent comments from a number of players have also painted an interesting picture.
Appearing alongside her manager at the press conference, Megan Connolly did not go as far as to say she wants to see Pauw continue in the role:
Other players have declined the opportunity to publicly back Pauw over the last few days. This is what Louise Quinn had to say when asked about the manager's future (h/t Irish Examiner):
I haven’t thought that much forward. I’m wondering what I’m having for lunch later, I’m wondering what the schedule is for tomorrow.
We’ve got a massive game that Vera’s going to get us prepared for, lead us into. For us, that’s obviously what we’re concentrating on right now. I haven’t thought anything past that.
Kyra Carusa shared a similar sentiment, saying "honestly, like, we are still in the World Cup. It is my first World Cup and I think we owe it to ourselves to stay focused on that. We’ll play our game on Monday and go from there.”
Lily Agg and Lucy Quinn also did not go as far as to say they would like to see Pauw stay in her role beyond this tournament, admitting that they are simply concentrating on the game against Nigeria.
With all of that in mind, it seems there is an increasing possibility that Ireland will undergo a change of manager in the coming weeks.
The ambition for the team to evolve is an admirable one, but this decision should not be taken lightly. Pauw has done a brilliant job, even if there are some clear issues with her approach.
It will be interesting to see what direction the FAI go in.