Northern Ireland's battling girls are edged out by the Republic
N Ireland 0-2 Rep of Ireland
Northern Ireland's women suffered their second defeat of their World Cup qualifying campaign, losing 2-0 to cross-border rivals the Republic of Ireland at Mourneview Park.
Despite the scoreline, the result is a reflection of how far the squad have come given the apparent gulf between the two teams, with the Republic ranked 27 places above Alfie Wylie's side, and an impressive defensive effort kept the game tight heading into the final moments.
Indeed, but for an unfortunate own goal from Rachel Furness seconds before the end of the first half, the two sides would have gone in level, while Megan Campbell's stunning second-half finish would have been a worthy winner in its own right.
Wylie was able to call upon the services of Everton striker Simone Magill, who missed the defeat in Norway due to injury, and Sion Swifts captain Kendra McMullan, who had recovered from an illness.
Early on it was clear the danger for Northern Ireland was coming from the set-piece deliveries from defender Campbell, and it was from one of her long throws that the Republic's first real chance fell, striker Stephanie Roche hammering a header against the crossbar just after the half-hour mark.
Having seen several shots come close, Lauren Perry was then called upon to keep the game scoreless, making a fantastic point blank stop from Louise Quinn at the back post from another Campbell cross.
Having had very little to cheer in the first half, Northern Ireland were inches away from leading at the break when McMullan found herself completely unmarked in the box at a corner, only for Marie Hourihan to tip her goal-bound header over.
Instead, Wylie's women would go in behind, Campbell again providing the threatening long throw which Furness misread and headed into her own net.
Another promising start from the hosts again yielded little in terms of chances, and instead Northern Ireland were fortunate not to be two behind, Roche adjudged to be offside when poking home a rebound in the 53rd minute.
Still the visitors pressed, but they could not find the opening to get that crucial second goal as Quinn was again frustrated, the defender sure she had scored only for Jessica Foy to block her shot on the line.
But finally the Irish women got the goal they deserved in the 69th minute, and Campbell the goal she deserved for her performance.
Another long throw was only partially cleared by Marissa Callaghan and, when it fell back to Campbell wide on the right, the defender curled in a delightful ball that looped over Perry and into the top corner.
Still Northern Ireland pressed in search of a goal that could make it interesting, and with 10 minutes to go they nearly opened their account when McMullan turned and shot from a corner only for her effort to slide inches wide.
Substitute Lauren Brennan was proving to be a bright spark for the hosts in the closing minutes and she nearly put Callaghan in again with a low ball across the box which the captain couldn't get on the end of.
Both sides had chances in the final moments, Magill firing tamely at Hourihan and Perry making a smart stop with her legs from Leanne Kiernan, but the Republic women will be very happy with their night's work and the points.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Perry; Newborough, Hutton, Nelson, Foy; Milligan (Brennan 68), Montgomery (McCarron 81), McMullan, Furness, Callaghan; Magill.
Subs not used: Higgins, Sherwood, Rafferty, Lindsay, Carleton.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Hourihan; Scott, Caldwell, Quinn, Campbell (Toland 82); O'Gorman (Kiernan 21), Duggan, Fahey, McCabe; O'Sullivan; Roche (Barrett 90).
Subs not used: McQuillan, Perry, Walsh, O'Riordan.
Player of the Match: Megan Campbell (Republic of Ireland)
Match Rating: 6/10
Referee: Vesna Budimir (Croatia)