It never rains but it pours. You know how the saying goes.
The Republic of Ireland entered Thursday’s World Cup send-off game with France under a grey cloud, and despite more storms during the 90 minutes, there was still a ray of optimism come the end of play.
The latest allegations against manager Vera Pauw had dominated the build-up after fresh allegations of abuse were reported.
Pauw launched a stern defence of her character in the pre-match press conference and reiterated her denial of the allegations.
It had somewhat been lost that France were heading to Dublin in what was supposed to be a celebration before the Republic headed to their first World Cup.
On the pitch, it started well. The Republic matched a side ranked fifth in the world until the next bump in the road when influential captain Katie McCabe was forced off after rolling her ankle.
The FAI said it was a precaution but Pauw would not judge the severity of the injury. An entire nation will hold its breath.
As the rain came, literally, France then showed their class and clinical edge as Maelle Lakrar and Eugenie La Sommer netted right at the end of the half after errors.
Lakrar was then left with all the time and space she wanted to head home a third to dampen the spirits of a record crowd at Tallaght Stadium, but they weren’t quite extinguished.
Player frustrations understandable
After a tense pre-match press conference, where Pauw and McCabe were pounded with questions about the report, it ended with the captain remarking: “It’s been a pleasure talking about the World Cup, guys. Really appreciate it”.
Given the serious nature of the allegations, those questions had to be asked. On the other hand, you can completely understand the frustrations of the players.
The allegations have nothing to do with the Irish squad but they are caught up in the storm, which was initially brought up in December.
This is their biggest moment of the careers, and for many of them there have been years of heartbreak and disappointment before that ultimate moment of joy and success.
The story is far from over in one sense as Pauw has contract negotiations with the FAI later in the summer, which have been put on the backburner for the World Cup, and the Dutchwoman has hinted at taking legal action for those trying to “destroy my career”.
They will likely travel with Pauw to Australia, and she has even admitted they may follow her for the rest of her life. But the 60-year-old says she has parked it as they prepare to step onto the plane Down Under.
“I was shocked yesterday, I was in complete shock,” said Pauw, who added that messages of support from fans and other coaches have helped her “immensely”.
“At that moment, it is about yourself. I came back into the hotel and I thought, ‘the only way that I can help those players, they deserve all my energy’.
“The only way was to step from ‘I’ to ‘we’. It’s World Cup now, it’s football now and everything else does not matter.
“I am professional. I thought, ‘I either go home or be there for the players’. I decided to be here for the players.
“For me, the only thing that counted was are we capable to put in a super performance here under these circumstances?
“That was the line I wanted to step over. We managed that so I am very confident that this group is not influenced and we can go to the World Cup.”
Despite all of the above, there was still an air of hope around the Dublin stadium.
“It’s tough because for those first 45 minutes we put a top-five team on the back foot,” said striker Kyra Carusa, who had a goal controversially ruled out for offside in the first half.
“We put a team who are so used to being comfortable on the ball and having control, we made them feel like they weren’t in control.
“That was a testament to us and is something to be celebrated. It’s hard to walk in after a half having so much to celebrate, and then have those two moments almost wash away all of that.
“As professionals, we realise they are non-negotiables and they cannot happen.
“That aside, understanding that, there is still so much we have improved on and we’ve grown from.”
With a record crowd weathering to rain to see the Republic off to Australia, Carusa adds the home support has given the team an extra lift as they prepare to depart for the World Cup.
“I was thinking of all the people. Every single person was on their feet. The most exciting thing is we have given them something to show up for.
“They are the 12th player on the pitch. How many countries can say that they have such an electric feel to it?
“I’m so happy and humbled by the attendance at this send-off. To bring a top-five team in the world to Tallaght, it’s the perfect way to go off to Australia.”
Now, despite all the external noise, full focus has to be on the World Cup – a stage the players have worked to hard to get to. It’s all starting to sink in.