‘My salary was halved walking away’ – Ireland’s Chloe Mustaki on play-off’s importance and pursuing her dream

Ireland’s Chloe Mustaki believes qualifying for a World Cup would be a watershed moment for the women’s game in this country.

it was Pauw’s side facing Scotland on Tuesday (8.0) in the World Cup play-off, the latest chapter of a historic campaign.

The Girls in Green secured second in their qualifying group last month in a campaign that saw them record their highest win, largest crowd at Tallaght and highest FIFA ranking. Ireland won’t want their journey to end at Hampden Park, and Mustaki labeled the clash as “the game of our lives”.

“Women’s football is exploding across the world,” said the 27-year-old, who earned her first competitive cap in April’s impressive draw in Sweden.

“If we qualified for a major tournament, the FAI would be under a lot of pressure to do as much as they can to support women’s football. We can’t shy away from the fact that it’s going to be the biggest game of our lives. We dreamed of being in this position. We’ll give it our best shot on Tuesday, we feel ready for it and it’s a game that we’ll cherish.”

Scotland defeated Austria 1-0 after extra-time last Thursday to secure a home play-off clash. Pauw knows the Scots well as she managed the side from 1998 to 2004 and will be hoping to take advantage of any fatigue after their grueling battle.

Mustaki insists her side will relish the challenge as Ireland set their sights on a first major tournament.

“Scotland have some really good individuals,” said Mustaki, who captained Ireland to the U-19 European Championship semi-finals in 2014. “They’ll each pose problems, be well organized and difficult to break down. We love being the underdogs and we’ll relish the opportunity.”

After winning last year’s Women’s National League with Shelbourne, the midfielder left the Reds and signed her first professional contract with Bristol City last July.

She revealed her salary was halved after she walked away from a full-time job to sign for Bristol but believes the “leap of faith” was necessary to retain her place in Pauw’s side.

“My salary was halved walking away, but you’re only young once and I won’t get this opportunity again,” said Mustaki, with Bristol currently top of the Women’s Championship after four games.

“It was now or never. I needed to go full-time. I felt if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be keeping my place (in the Ireland squad) for much longer. It was something I never thought I’d do at a younger age, but I’m loving it.

“I was going through my ACL rehab during Covid, which was a very lonely time for me. I just thought, ‘Why not?’ I’ll be working until whatever age, so why not take a few years out and give football everything.

“If I hadn’t had my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis (at age 19), maybe I would have taken that leap of faith a bit earlier in life. I felt this was the right time to give it a go.”

Before Shelbourne, Mustaki had spells with Peamount United and UCD Waves (now DLR Waves) and insists more needs to be done to support the women’s game here.

As it’s an amateur league, clubs are not entitled to a transfer fee, a factor which has the WNL lagging behind others in Europe.

“Regardless of the result on Tuesday or in February, more needs to be done,” added Mustaki

“I think we’re just really far off at the moment in Ireland. Things are improving way too quickly in other countries for the likes of myself not to be willing to take that opportunity. There’s a lot of talk and great ambition, but we’re just not moving quickly enough to keep up with the pace of things in other countries.

“I think we would definitely retain talent if it were semi-professional. Hopefully, we will get there. You could see the rise in standards every time you came in (to Ireland camps). One week you’re training with your club in Ireland, next week you’re training against the likes of Katie McCabe, who is playing with world-class players. It’s incredibly difficult. All of our players, more or less, are playing in full-time set-ups. Things are really improving very, very quickly, which is really exciting for younger girls now.

“I’d say we’re probably eight to ten years away from really being able to offer something concrete for girls in Ireland.

“But if we qualify for the World Cup, maybe that will be set up. Let’s see what happens.”