SoccerMatch Report

Katie McCabe wonder strike headlines Ireland’s six-goal thumping of Northern Ireland

Nations League campaign and the Eileen Gleeson era ends with glut of goals at Windsor Park

Nations League: Northern Ireland 1 Republic of Ireland 6

Everyone who came to see Katie McCabe went home with a fistful of memories. The Republic of Ireland skipper unveiled her entire skill-set in Belfast; killing balls with a subtle touch, whipping crosses onto Kyra Carusa’s grateful head and scoring a rare, right-footed gem.

McCabe’s latest masterclass secured a sixth win from six Nations League outings, wrapping up a momentous year for the women’s game in Ireland.

Northern Ireland, quite simply, collapsed in the face of superior opponents.

The first goal broke the dam. It was exactly how Ireland want to play next season when they join the elite tier of European football.


It needed 30-odd minutes of probing until Caitlin Hayes’s diagonal pass found McCabe, who cushioned the ball with her insole, drew Rebecca McKenna with a shimmy before feeding Lucy Quinn, all the while drawing gasps from a crowd largely populated by young girls.

Quinn turned inside Sarah McFadden and smashed a shot off Chloe McCarron that wrong-footed goalkeeper Maddison Harvey-Clifford.

What looked like a celebratory huddle, on closer inspection, was McCabe doling out instructions.

Ireland sensed blood. Before a poor Windsor Park attendance could draw breath, Quinn scurried to the end line and picked out Hether Payne at the back post. Laura Rafferty had nodded off. Payne blasted into an open net.

Two goals inside 90 seconds masked what appeared to be Ireland developing some bad habits. Adopting a possession-based, build-from-the-back approach initially proved challenging. With Denise O’Sullivan working to the bone in the number 10 slot behind Carusa and McCabe returning to left wing-back, others were tasked with dictating the tempo.

This led to a half-hour of sideways football before balls were launched into 50-50 aerial battles. Meat and drink to the Northern Ireland back five, particularly when O’Sullivan was the intended target. The North Carolina Courage skipper plays as a holding midfielder in America. The current Irish system is made for her to drop and run the game as a number six.

Still, she found a way into the contest.

McCabe was equally busy up and down the left. There were some delightful skills on display, especially when she won a corner off McKenna but she was also forced to defend. Inevitably, she was hurt in a tasty clash with Caragh Hamilton before Nadene Caldwell went through her ankle.

She got up to nonchalantly destroy Northern Ireland. She was not alone. Payne helped by bringing her Everton form into the international window and Megan Connolly’s set-piece deliveries were superb.

The quick-fire strikes before half-time covered flaws that better European nations will identify. Still, it is hard to quibble with the manner in which McCabe turned this Windsor night into a rout.

Northern Ireland coach Tanya Oxtoby replaced McKenna at half-time with Demi Vance. The Glentoran defender was instantly exposed as McCabe created and scored two more goals.

The third came when Carusa beat McFadden at the front post to finish another pinpoint McCabe delivery.

Again, Oxtoby’s side were caught out, giving the Irish captain space to control and beat Vance with one touch, taking two more to get the head up before planting a right foot effort into the top corner.

Four-nil. Different gravy from the Arsenal star. It brought her Nations League tally to four, five for the calendar year, including the Olimpico against Canada in Perth. Who could forget.

Louise Quinn made it five with an outstanding header to reward Connolly’s pacy corner. There was a half hour still to play in the Eileen Gleeson era. Keeping the hot seat warm apparently, no Ireland manager has ever won six straight competitive games. She’s done the FAI some service.

Kerry Beattie bundled in a consolation goal but the gulf in quality between professional and semi-professional outfits was plain to see.

Hayes even sauntered forward to grab a sixth from another Connolly delivery.

The loss leaves Northern Ireland in the B-league next year as Hungary’s 6-0 defeat of Albania in Budapest sends them into a play-off.

The victory leaves the Republic of Ireland coasting into 2024.

Northern Ireland: Harvey-Clifford (Crusaders); Hamilton (Lewes), McKenna (Charlton Athletic), McFadden (Durham), Rafferty (Southampton), Holloway (Racing Louisville); Caldwell (Glentoran), McCarron (Glentoran), Callaghan (Cliftonville); Wade (Reading), Magill (Aston Villa).

Substitutions: Vance (Glentoran) for McKenna, Beattie (Glentoran) for Magill (both 46), Maxwell (Glentoran) for Caldwell (66), Bell (Rangers) for McCarron (81).

Republic of Ireland: Brosnan (Everton); Hayes (Glasgow Celtic), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Connolly (Bristol City); Payne (Everton), Littlejohn (London City Lionesses), Finn (Birmingham City), McCabe (Arsenal); Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City), O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage); Carusa (San Diego Wave).

Substitutions: Larkin (Glasgow City) for Payne, Stapleton (West Ham United) for Littlejohn (both 63), Atkinson (West Ham United) for Lucy Quinn, Mustaki (Bristol City) for Louise Quinn (Both 81), Agg (Birmingham City) for Finm (85).

Referee: Veronika Kovarova (Czech Republic).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent