Room-mates seize their chance to reward Pauw’s faith in youth

Sometimes an urgency to shake off the past can inhibit the need to plan for the future.

or an emerging Ireland team, still to prove it can last the pace at the business end of qualification, it might often seem more prudent for manager Vera Pauw to rely on the tried and tested.

Instead, she has demonstrated throughout her second campaign that, despite the ultimate failings of the last one, there is nothing to be lost in an occasional youthful fling.

Despite an evident cautious nature, an imperceptibly confident trust in an expanding array of options continued to be evident in Georgia, even allowing for the obvious caveats regarding the opponents.

Which is why, for one thing, the recently reliable wing-back Jamie Finn wasn’t risked as potential suspension loomed large ahead of the much tougher tasks presented by the hapless Georgians.

Also why, for another, veteran attacker Stephanie Roche, only recently recalled for the first time in the Dutchwoman’s reign, was one of the quartet who remained surplus to the requirements in the Gori bleachers.

And so it was that Jess Ziu, just turned 20, completed 90 minutes in the advanced role that might have seemed set fair for the returning heroine Roche while later, sprung from the bench, 17-year-old striker Abbie Larkin joined in the scoring spree by claiming the eighth goal.

“They play not for the future but because they are the best options for now in that position,” insists the manager.

“Amber (Barrett) tried and tried and did well but we needed more mobility and Abbie was fantastic. Jess was linking up well and we didn’t want to change her.

“Every player is there because of their quality, not their age or experience.”

Ziu reiterated this of the zestful Larkin.

“It just shows how good Abbie is,” said the West Ham-bound player of her fellow Dubliner.

“Age is just a number. They say if you are good enough, you are old enough. And I think she showed that when she came on.”

That Ziu provided the final flick for Larkin’s goal seemed especially apt, not merely as a hint of their futures in green, but also their shared history with reigning domestic champions Shelbourne.

“I’m delighted to get the assist for her first goal,” beamed Ziu before the team went their separate ways after doing the needful by the bucketful in Gori.

“It was also my first ever assist too for Ireland, so it meant a lot to me. I’m absolutely delighted for ‘Larko’ to get her first goal. She’s my roomie in camp and we’re always talking about it – what it would be like to get our first goal.

“She beat me to it! I’m 20 now, she’s three years younger than me and she has beaten me to it. But I think she has way more to come too in the future.”

It seems almost impolite to suggest that, despite bettering the Swedes’ 19 goal haul against the Georgians, Ireland still quest a naturally prolific striker.

Larkin may not necessarily be the answer but her dove-tailing with Ziu does, however, reflect a potential partnership, somewhat akin to that between Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi with the men’s team.

Timing, in more ways than one.

“I think we’ve been working on that one at Shels a lot, our link-up play, and thankfully it came off tonight for the national team,” noted Ziu. “Hopefully there will be more link-ups like that in the future

“It felt amazing,” Larkin chipped in. “I came on and was hoping to score a goal. The team played great, so that was better than the goal.

“I was very shocked. I got a weird shock feeling or something, but I was very happy. I did no celebration.

“I should have done a really good celebration for my first goal, but I just had my hand up in the air with a big smile on my face. Seeing Denise (O’Sullivan) and Katie (McCabe) there, I was like, ‘Oh my God’.

“That Jess assisted even made it better, to be fair. I knew she was going to set it back to me, so I was, like, I’ll pop this in.”

Regrettably, this impish duo’s partnership, which has now flourished for country as it did for club must soon be sundered; after a short Spanish holiday, Ziu will begin life as a full-time professional under Paul Konchesky at West Ham United.

“Ah yeah, sure she’s off now, she’s leaving me,” laughs Larkin. “I wish her the best of luck. Hopefully I can join her some day – in a year or two maybe.

“I’ll just keep working hard. Obviously you have to work hard to get into this team first. I’m still young, so I’ve a lot of developing to do.

”She’ll be brilliant over there. She’s got a big future.”

As does Larkin, according to those who know her best.

“She’s only 17-years-old, but I hope that everybody has seen how talented she is,” added Pauw.

“She needs to go a long way, we take it easy, but it’s fantastic what she did today on the pitch and we had full confidence to take the decision to put her on.”

McCabe, who had reflected over the weekend on the women who inspired her as a young teen getting involved in the sport, is now herself fulfilling that role, Larkin the latest injection of youth demanded by Pauw to expand her options and the team’s horizons.

“Abbie’s been brilliant since she’s come in,” said McCabe, once more revelling in the advanced role established in the past 12 months as she notched up a hat-trick.

“She’s learning a lot and really taking her opportunities when they come. I’m delighted for her to get her first goal, and I’m hoping she kicks on now.

“She’s a really young kid, so it’s important that she just keeps her head down, keeps learning and working hard, and I’m sure the rest of the goals will come her way.”

Those ambitions are manifold, particularly in a Leaving Cert year, although perhaps she may no longer have to juggle U19 commitments given her extended involvement in the senior squad.

It might seem preposterous to dangle a World Cup bow as a live prospect but for Abbie Larkin, only a year on from her first Shelbourne start, and months on from an international debut, when the then 16-year-old required her parents’ permission to travel, nothing seems inconceivable.

Leave a Comment