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Ireland denied famous victory as Gleeson’s girls show their mettle against Italy



After an autumn amongst Europe’s second tier, the elite await this spring and this was a portent of the expected class difference. Ireland didn’t look out of kilter.

They have renewed belief that they can mix with the best.

They could have nicked this one, only for the offside flag to deny the returning Leanne Kiernan, after the away side produced the best move of the night, emitting gasps from the crowd.

The assistant raised a devilish flag. The details revealed the tightest margin, denying Ireland a famous result.

That Michela Catina blasted over with ten minutes left seemed a nod to fate. For a win may not have been entirely undeserved on a notable evening for so many.

Jess Ziu made an emotional return after 17 months away with an ACL while her now similarly stricken colleague, Jamie Finn, watched on forlornly.

Returning too was Niamh Fahey and, from injury Kiernan, as well as Amber Barrett from temporary exile, as second-half substitutes in an unlike Irish gambit to seek a winner from a wholly even encounter with world-class opponents.

Italy had downed World Cup champions Spain in such thrilling style in a top tier Nations League tie before Christmas.

But Ireland started brightly, pressing high and pinging the ball around confidently on a slick surface zippy with incessant afternoon rain.

Ireland began with a flat four, Katie McCabe reverting to more defensive mindfulness, keeping an eye on veteran Sara Gama and Benedetta Glionna,

But Heather Payne was not cowed.

Jessie Stapleton had an early driving run, delivering a probing ball to Payne who did the same, crossing for Kyra Carusa whose shot was smothered by the keeper.

Atkinson was having a fine game on the left, on and off the ball.

Carusa had a long odds penalty shout when tussling with Sara Gama, the veteran defender making her farewell appearance after a distinguished career and reviewed evidence confirmed that more than sentiment saved her.

Italian pressure was perhaps inevitable. That it was delayed was a credit to the away side whose early throes were arguably better than a couple of their autumn outings against European flotsam.

Glionna flashed a 33rd minute shot over after some wondrous exchanges, debutant Elisabetta Oliviero emitting gasps from the crowd.

Her Everton colleague Martina Piemonte almost outfoxed her on the stroke of half-time, after McCabe had once more lost Glionna who set up the chance.

Lucy Quinn came in for Ruesha Littlejohn, suffering from a knock sustained midway through the half, and found space though Italy maintained a fitful dominance of possession.

Gama went off with much more flourish, afforded a 50th minute guard of honour from her team and a standing ovation from the thousand or so spectators who may be more enthused by Tuesday’s England friendly.

Ireland kept them at their work though, Atkinson steaming down the right, her shot saved with no little effort after Dragoni had gone close at the other end.

Quinn startled with a shot and Kiernan almost stunned with the goal that never was.

Italy: K Schroffenegger; Gama (Bartoli 50), Linari, Salvai, Oliviero, Dragoni (Bonasea 86), Galli (Carusa 77), Glionna, Greggi (Severeni 77), Girelli (Catena 64), Piemonte.

Ireland: Brosnan; Payne (Mannion 90), Hayes, Fahey, McCabe; Ziu (Agg 69), Stapleton, Connolly, Atkinson (Kiernan 61), Littlejohn (Lucy Quinn HT), Carusa (Barrett 60).

Referee – E Rusta (Albania)

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