Leanne Kiernan: Ukraine clash is a Cup final for Ireland
The Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team are looking at their best ever opportunity to qualify for a major tournament final, and cannot waste the chance, according to Leanne Kiernan.
The West Ham United forward is in line to earn her 21st cap for her nation in Friday’s Group I clash away to Ukraine. Should Republic of Ireland claim a point from the fixture, they will guarantee a place in the play-offs; a win could even see them automatically qualify for next summer’s European Championships.
Whatever happens, Kiernan is confident in the team’s ability to secure their place at their first-ever Finals.
It’s a massive game for Ireland, a Cup final. We've never qualified for a major tournament and this is probably our best chance.
"This is our biggest game of the campaign because we know how much this means,” Kiernan said. “It’s the history of getting to a play-off, so we're all looking forward to it.
“We have to be realistic too, but we definitely think we’ve a chance of qualifying both ways. It’s a massive game for Ireland, a Cup final. We've never qualified for a major tournament and this is probably our best chance. Every one of the girls is on board on that, we realise what's to lose so we’ll be going for it.
"Confidence is at an all-time high. We've beaten Ukraine before, so we know it's possible. But we also know what's to lose so we've to get ahead from the start."
The 21-year-old refers to Vera Pauw’s first match in charge of the national team, when Ireland clinched a 3-2 win at Tallaght Stadium over Ukraine in the reverse fixture last October.
Kiernan believes Ukraine made the error of underestimating her and her teammates in the previous contest, a mistake Friday’s opponents have undoubtedly learned from.
But then, Ireland are stronger than they were 12 months ago too.
“Ukraine underestimated us in Tallaght and hopefully we can show them again that they shouldn’t underestimate us,” Kiernan continued. “They were probably looking at us, having never qualified for a tournament, but we did the job on them.
“We’re a better team now. We have more players abroad now in some of the best leagues in the world and we’re pretty prepped this time. As Vera has said recently, this is like a cup final. We know how much this means to the country as we could make history by qualifying.
“I believe in this group of girls we have here and I think that we’ve a great chance.”