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Republic of Ireland will start 2018 with a trip to Portugal for two international friendlies ahead of two crucial 2019 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in April, reports

Colin Bell’s side have enjoyed a year to remember which was capped off by their historic draw against the European Champions, the Netherlands, to remain unbeaten in their qualifying campaign.

As well as the draw in Nijmegen, wins over Slovakia and Northern Ireland saw Ireland climb to 29th in the latest FIFA World Rankings, up four places, and claim the biggest points haul (48) worldwide in the month of November.

With the qualifying campaign set to continue with a double-header against Slovakia and the Netherlands in April at Tallaght Stadium, the squad travel to the Azores for two international friendlies. Ireland will fly out on Monday 15th January to face Portugal on the 18th & 21st January, with kick-off times and venues yet to be confirmed.

Amy Boyle Carr, Eabha O’Mahony and Zara Foley have all received their first call-ups to the senior squad after their impressive performances for the U-17s.

Ruesha Littlejohn and Claire Walsh will not be available as they sustained knocks before the Netherlands game, while Stephanie Roche and Aine O’Gorman are progressing well with their respective injuries. Midfielder Megan Connolly should be ready for a return to the international stage when her college commitments at Florida State University end later in 2018.

Bell’s squad will not compete in the Cyprus Cup next year and will instead have a training camp at Fota Island Resort, Cork. The training camp will begin in the final week of February as the squad look to have the very best preparation ahead of the crucial April qualifiers.

“We’re delighted to be able to arrange these two friendlies against high-quality opposition such as Portugal,” said Bell.

“They qualified for the European Championships last summer and beat Ireland to a qualification spot in the last campaign so it’ll be a great test for us as we look to continue to improve in the New Year.

“We’ve had a fantastic year and our rise in the FIFA World Rankings is a great indication of the progression we’ve made in 2017. The draw against the Netherlands was a great way to end the year but we must now look to achieve new levels in 2018.

“The games will be a good chance to play some of the younger members of the squad as well. We’ve had a lot of young players come into the squad in recent months and its important to get those players the game-time they need to progress.

“I’ve also taken the opportunity to bring Amy (Boyle Carr), Eabha (O’Mahony) and Zara (Foley) into the squad for the first time as they’ve really impressed me since I started working with the Under-17s and I feel they would really benefit from spending time around the senior squad.

“I’ve decided against competing in the Cyprus Cup this year. I believe playing four games in such a short amount of time wouldn’t be very beneficial to us at this stage and we would benefit more from a intensive training camp.”

Republic of Ireland squad

Goalkeeper: Marie Hourihan (Manchester City), Amanda Budden (Cork City WFC), Amanda McQuillan (Shelbourne Ladies)

Defenders: Sophie Perry (Brighton & Hove Albion), Diane Caldwell (SC Sand), Louise Quinn (Arsenal), Harriet Scott (Reading), Niamh Fahey (Bordeaux), Aislinn Meaney (Galway), Eabha O’Mahony (Lakewood)

Midfielders: Karen Duggan (UCD Waves), Tyler Toland (Maiden City), Denise O’Sullivan (NC Courage), Roma McLaughlin (Shelbourne), Amy Boyle Carr (Sion Swifts)

Forwards: Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Amber Barrett (Peamount United), Leanne Kiernan (Shelbourne), Heather Payne (Peamount United), Isibeal Atkinson (Shelbourne), Zara Foley (Lakewood)

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