Graham Shaw says there was a calm confidence in the camp prior to the World Cup semi-final as they scarcely believable run rolled on to the final courtesy of more shoot-out madness.
“If I am perfectly honest, I woke up this morning feeling confident,” Shaw said after the tie. “It’s one thing being confident and another going in dealing with the pressure of a World Cup semi-final and executing.
“The first half was brilliant. The girls came out on the front foot and really imposed their game and caused a lot of problems. We were a little bit disappointed to only go in 1-0 up because we felt we didn’t execute the corners the way we would have liked.
“Spain put us on the back foot in the second half and we retracted a bit, gave away a lot of possession and played the game in the back third which is not ideal.
“They scored but testament to the team, the last five minutes they went for it again and really upped the intensity. It wasn’t good for my heart.
“Its testament to how these girls live their lives. The fitness levels are incredible to keep going, looking the fitter side in the last five minutes. It shows physically and mentally what belief these girls have.”
As for the shoot-out, Gillian Pinder was brought into the five from Thursday, stepping up to score both the first and last efforts.
“Serious guts, serious bottle to take it when you haven’t taken one in the quarter-final and then to do it again. She’s so laid back so maybe she is the right person to take a one-v-one.
“I actually thought she had missed and didn’t know what everyone was cheering for! It’s a very difficult thing to do, stand up in a World Cup semi-final, the first time ever in front of that crowd like that is this tournament. It’s our first major. To have that much coolness in your play is incredible.”
Ayeisha McFerran, meanwhile, added more weight to her claims for the player of the tournament gong.
“She’s like twinkle-toes in there. Her feet move so quick; she’s not the biggest keeper in the world but she is incredibly athletic. If you saw her sprint, you would think she is a sprinter. She is lightnning off the mark. It probably plays into the Spanish heads when they got near her.
“If someone doesn’t pick her [for goalkeeper of the tournament], they will have to come talk to me. What a job she has done? Conceded just three in the tournaments, won two shoot-outs. It’s not a surprise to us.
“I watched her at underage as an 18-year-old and you could tell she had this steel about her, the athleticism. I have to pay credit to Nigel Henderson. What a goalkeeping coach, not just with Ayeisha and other keepers in Ireland.
“We are incredibly lucky to have that man coaching our goalkeepers. He trains them not only to be a top goalkeeper but also to be mentally strong and composed in different situations.”
It means a date with the Netherlands who Ireland have not faced since 2013, a 6-0 loss in the European Championships. Their only World Cup meeting in 2002 produced the same scoreline. They have not lost a game since the Olympic final in 2016.
“I’ve been asking the Dutch for three years for a bloody game and they won’t bloody play us, so they don’t have a choice now. If we meet them, we meet them. On paper, everyone knows the Dutch have been incredible the last few years, particularly since Rio.
“I don’t know how many goals they’ve conceded in the last three or four tournaments but it’s very little. It’s a World Cup final…I can’t believe I’m saying that…it’s a World Cup final and we’re going to have to beat the best. Whoever it is, it is.
“I’m trying not to look at social media and things like that because you start to read about it and the emotions start to come in. As the head coach and the leader of the group, I need to stay away from that.
“My daughter said to me the other day she wants to be a hockey player and she wouldn’t pick up a stick until now. That nearly put me in tears. If we’ve inspired the next generation and we;ve done something for our sport, which I’m pretty confident we have, that’s something we set out to play and and something we’re incredibly proud of.”
And the ubiquitous smiles have been there all the way along.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever gone out and played in front of a crowd of that size and they’re doing it with a smile on their face. They’re doing it relaxed and calm, and I know it doesn’t always show in our play. It’s incredible. 16th in the world and to go out and get the job done and continuously get it done and dig deep and dig deep and just…incredibly proud.
“They are best friends and just a group of people who love spending time with each other and I think that shows in our play. They not only try to win each moment for themselves but for each other and that makes us quite difficult to play against. You’re just hoping for the quality at the other end and today it happened.”
And how do you beat a side like the Dutch?
“Can we go straight to the shootout? I’m no feel, I know exactly how good and how strong that Dutch team are. We’ll try and push them, impose our game and put them on the back foot and you just never know.”