‘This is our World Cup final’
Republic of Ireland’s Lily Agg tells David Hennessy about leading the Girls in Green into their first ever World Cup play- off.
Republic of Ireland’s women secured their place in their first ever World Cup play-off with a 1-0 win over Finland at Tallaght Stadium on 1 September, with the decisive goal coming from the head of Lily Agg. It was her second international goal in only her third cap and a historic one for Republic of Ireland.
The London City Lionesses midfielder came off the bench in the 40th minute to replace the injured Ruesha Littlejohn and would be named Player of the Match.
Their win over Finland ensured Ireland would get a play-off and their 1-0 away win over Slovakia days later put them into round two of a complicated play-off system. This match would see Lily earn her fourth cap and a first competitive start for the Girls in Green.
Lily told The Irish World on her return to London: “It has been a very much whirlwind.
“It’s been such high moments over the last kind of week or so
“They’re such a special group, the team that I’ve been away with.”
When Vera Pauw decided to send her into the action, her instructions for Lily were to pick up Finland’s number four, Ria Öling, and stay defensive.
“It was a really tough game.
“I think the atmosphere was incredible in the stadium
“I think Ruesha (Littlejohn) had a bit of a knock.
“Then Vera had said to me really to basically man mark their number four and try and get her out of the game.
“I was just focused on that.
“I just was very nervous and said to myself to try and keep it simple and work hard and it was all very surreal what happened following that.”
Lily would put Republic of Ireland ahead with a 54th minute goal.
“I have watched it a few times,” she admits.
“We all joked on the team- I can’t believe I was so free.
“I don’t know if it was to do with me coming on as sub and nobody really knew who was to pick me up, and they were also very worried about Louise Quinn.
“So I kind of just stood at the back and no one really picked me up and then just tried to follow where the ball was heading.
“It felt like it was in the air for ages and then I could sort of feel the keeper coming.
“But I just tried to focus on connecting with the ball and luckily for me, it ended up in the back of the net.”
Lily had to aim her header over the onrushing goalkeeper while still bringing it down and into the net.
Was this pure instinct? “I’m gonna go with luck,” she almost laughs.
“I don’t really know.
“It ended up in.
“I did also joke with the girls when I was away.
“I said if I’d missed and I didn’t see it in the goal, I was staying on the floor probably crying because I had a dead leg after that for a good few days.”
Was there a feeling of immediate relief for the team having got themselves in front?
“I felt there was obvious excitement.
“I don’t know if there was relief.
“We still had the game to play and anything could happen when you’re playing against a team like Finland.
“The girls stayed really focused on the task.
“And you saw everyone was putting bodies on the line.
“The defence were incredible.
“And they have been said, the last four games now have been a clean sheet.
“And that really is kind of the backbone of the team moving forward.
“And I think you saw that again, the other night v Slovakia.
“I wouldn’t say so much relief as we still had to keep pushing and keep working hard once the goal was in.
“But there was a lot more relief once the final whistle was over. That was for sure.”
Republic of Ireland will take on the winners of Scotland and Austria.
The Irish World spoke to Lily before the draw was made.
“All the girls were wrecking their heads trying to figure out potential draws.
“As everyone knows, the next part of the process is very, very complicated.
“You don’t quite know what’s going on or where you’ll be. Everyone’s very much nervous but excited looking ahead to the draw on Friday to see what will happen with that.”
Republic of Ireland’s women have never qualified for a major tournament although they came agonisingly close in their last campaign.
It was only in 2017 that the female team took a stand for better treatment and conditions from the FAI.
“It’s a massive, massive moment for Irish football and I think all the girls could feel the excitement after the game.
“It is one game. It is essentially our World Cup final to get to the World Cup.
“So we will all be working hard over the next month to make sure everyone stays fit, healthy and going into whatever and whoever we play in the best form possible.
“And then hopefully we can we can go that step further.”
The 28-year-old, who qualifies through her Cobh grandmother, only made her Republic of Ireland debut in June scoring in a 1-0 win over Philippines.
She told us it means a great deal to her family.
“All my family were definitely watching close by and no one really thought I would get on let alone score and so on. So it was all a bit crazy, but it was a great moment for all the family indeed.
“Mum was very proud.
“She was a bit emotional.
“She was having a little tear, which was nice and she was with my granddad.
“They watched together so it was really a special moment for them as well.
“I was talking to my mum last night and she just said, ‘You wouldn’t even have dreamt how well things have gone since you’ve been involved with Ireland’.
“And it’s exactly that, I think.
“I’ve had some very, very tough lows within football and the last kind of few times I’ve been away with Ireland, it’s been the highest of highs.
“It’s dreamworthy and I’m so excited to be a part of it all.”
The Irish World caught up with Lily as well as London City Lionesses manager Mel Phillips to look ahead to their scheduled fixture against Bristol City last Sunday. Of course this match did not go ahead due to the Queen’s passing.
Mel Phillips says the club takes pride in having players in the Republic of Ireland squad.
Were they watching Lily’s moment of glory? “Of course we did. The whole team was watching it from one place or another.
“I could feel it coming. It’s more or less a running joke that Lily Agg wins every header in midfield, on set pieces.
“You could feel it coming.
“She got her head on the end of it and proved to be the difference in the match.
“So it’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it’s just so much fun to see her go to the next level stage ahead.
“We’ve also got Hayley Nolan and the girls are over the moon as are the staff for both of them and the way that they’ve gone and strengthened that Ireland squad and brought experiences from club to country and we know equally they’ll be able to bring experiences back from the trip they’ve just had and help strengthen our squad.”
London City Lionesses have started with one loss and one win as they aim for promotion this year having come second to Liverpool last season.
“Really you have to make your own luck.
“Like Lily Agg, you don’t become an overnight celebrity without a lifetime of hard work going into it.
“And then that’s really the philosophy of the club as well. We’ve just tried to maintain focus on sustainable growth each season and really put ourselves in the best position each new year.”
Round One (6 October)
Scotland v Austria
Wales v Bosnia-Herzegovina
Portugal v Belgium
Round Two (11 October)
Portugal v Belgium v Iceland
Scotland v Austria v Republic of Ireland
Switzerland v Wales or Bosnia- Herzegovina
The two play-off winners with the highest ranking qualify automatically for the World Cup, while the remaining play-off winner will compete in the inter-confederation play-offs.