Dave Connell guides Ireland Women's Under 19s to victory over Italy as they top group

Alan Walsh

Reporter:

Alan Walsh

Dave Connell guides Ireland Women's Under 19s to victory over Italy as they top group

Three straight wins saw the Republic of Ireland Women's Under 19s top their Qualifying Round group in the UEFA European Championships after beating Italy 2-0 on Sunday.

The victory means that Dave Connell's team finish the first stage of qualifying for the 2017 finals as Group 2 winners following their previous triumphs over FYR Macedonia and Wales.

Connell opted to stick with the same starting line-up that overcame Wales and his decision paid off on 33 minutes when Cork native Saoirse Noonan opened the scoring.

Defender Chloe Moloney made it 2-0 on 58 minutes after good work by Niamh Prior and that was all they needed to complete their objective of coming away from Skopje with maximum points.

"We needed to beat Italy to top the group and we did it in style. We played really well as a team against a very good Italian side and it was a real team performance that got us through," said head coach Connell.

"I've been fortunate to work with some great teams through the years and this team can potentially go all the way. Now, we won't get too carried away, but we are certainly going in the right direction.

"We set targets individually and as a team, which included getting nine points, not conceding a goal, and topping the group - and we achieved that. I'm delighted for the players and also the staff, who work incredibly hard. 

"The most pleasing thing, though, was how the players managed the games and how they were able to shut out games. It was a really professional approach from the players and they came to the fore in these three games. We now look forward to the Elite Round next year."

To put Ireland's achievement in numbers, they played three games, won all three, scored 14 goals, conceded zero, took 58 shots on goal, had seven different goalscorers, and all but one of their squad got minutes on the pitch.

Connell, who is aiming to guide a third different women's team to a UEFA finals tournament, can now start planning for Spring 2017 when the Elite Round games will be scheduled.

If Ireland top their group at that stage, they will be one of seven teams joining the hosts, Northern Ireland, in the finals. But for now it's a case of so far, so good for this team.

Republic of Ireland: McQuillan (McAloon 90); McCartan, Finn, Moloney, Prior; Farrelly, McLaughlin (Watters 56); Kavanagh (Ryan-Doyle 87), Noonan, J Nolan; Kiernan.

Italy: Piazza; Lenzini, Tortelli, Mella, Merlo; Cavicchia (Regazzoli 66), Caruso; Gilonna (Santoro 46), Cantore, Del Stabile (Macsarello 87), Serturini.

Referee: Tess Olofsson (SWE).