The Republic of Ireland missed out on the UEFA Women's EURO 2009 finals after a play-off and to make it this time they need to top a Scotland side – their hosts in Edinburgh on Thursday – including some familiar opponents for goalkeeper Emma Byrne.
Arsenal LFC's Byrne has helped her Irish team to second place in Group 4, two points ahead of Scotland, a side with a strong Gunners element themselves. Byrne, 32, told UEFA.com: "They've got Kim Little, she's probably one of the best in Europe at the moment, [injured] Jennifer Beattie, a top player, and Julie Fleeting – who's luckily out having a baby, which we're all very happy about!"
Ireland's run to the 2009 play-offs, where they lost to Iceland, was a first and a surprise to some, but this time Susan Ronan's charges certainly feel the finals in Sweden is in their ambit. "I feel there is an expectation, we're at that level now and it's time to start making a difference," Byrne said.
"We've been floating around for a long time and it's time to take that next step. Last time we felt we didn't do ourselves justice. We really feel it's a possibility this year, when we were drawn in the group we were really confident. Mentally, it's good to play teams we know."
Byrne added: "It's gone quite well, we've won two and lost one. We lost to France, which is to be expected, and I'm glad we beat Wales, and now the big test is against Scotland. I think we're very similar teams, we're on the same level as them, but Scotland will be hard to beat. But we're quite confident."
Since the 2009 campaign, former Under-19 coach Ronan has stepped up to replace long-time manager Noel King. "New management always brings a different perspective to the game, everyone reacts differently, good or bad, but everyone seems to be embracing the new regime," Byrne said. "There's a good atmosphere."
Another change for the domestic-based majority of the squad was the launch last autumn of the Irish Women's National League, the country's first such competition. "They're playing regularly and training regularly with more competitive games – it's definitely going to improve the players," continued Byrne. "Fitness was a problem and it should never be a problem."
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