Katie McCabe shows fire and ice in Ireland’s generational win

Victories like Tuesday night’s in Helsinki could see women’s side outgrow Tallaght

Eileen Gleeson and Katie McCabe after Tuesday night’s famous win in Finland. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Inpho

Eileen Gleeson and Katie McCabe after Tuesday night’s famous win in Finland. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Inpho

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“Aw, I was furious,” Katie McCabe told RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue, when he compared her to John Aldridge in Orlando, after suffering the double punishment of being kicked by Andelina Engman before French referee Alexandra Collin allowed play to continue while the Irish captain received treatment.

What made McCabe so livid in Helsinki on Tuesday night was that Finland were awarded the throw-in despite a blatant foul by the former Chelsea forward on the Arsenal wing back.

Sure enough, Engman exploited McCabe’s absence, finding the run of Tuija Hyyrynen before ghosting into the box to slide the return ball under Ireland goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan.

With temperatures plummeting and Megan Connolly also carrying a knock, Finland were primed to crush McCabe’s dream of leading Ireland to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Denise O’Sullivan gave Ireland three points against Finland. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Inpho
Denise O’Sullivan gave Ireland three points against Finland. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Inpho

Seconds later Linda Sällström and Eveliina Summanen almost combined to make it 2-1 and alter the very history of Irish football. Instead, Áine O’Gorman broke up the next Finnish attack to send Jamie Finn and Heather Payne down the right wing before goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela made a mess of Payne’s cross and Denise O’Sullivan headed Ireland back in front.

“I was frustrated with the tackle, it was quite late and deserved a booking,” said McCabe, a rock of ice attached to her left calf 30 minutes after the final whistle.

“And then, to have to be helpless on the sideline when they scored, I was furious with the decision.

“But Denise’s goal showed where we are as a team. We didn’t stand off, we went for the goal.”

Outgrown

Celebrations at full-time on the Olympic Stadium pitch were contained inside the Irish huddle, which was as much down to exhaustion as the fact that Finland come to Dublin in September 2022. The return fixture is pencilled in for Tallaght stadium unless the FAI realise that this team has outgrown the 8,000 capacity venue by then.

Record attendances are guaranteed come next month’s qualifiers against Slovakia and Georgia, especially considering that the FAI are planning to sell tickets in a package for both games.

The previous record of 5,328, when Ukraine were beaten 3-2 in October 2019, was helped by the groundswell created by the 20x20 marketing campaign.

Before the inevitable switch of international women’s soccer to the Aviva Stadium the association need to be certain that at the very least the lower deck of the 51,700 capacity ground can be filled.

So, while interest is growing at a rapid rate, the team needs to keep winning. RTÉ viewing figures for last week’s 1-0 loss to Sweden averaged at 125,000 with an average of 89,200 tuning into Helsinki despite the 4.15pm kick-off catching the floating fan unawares (for example, the mother phoned just before Megan Connolly’s goal to ask what time was kick-off and to make sure I had a scarf.)

Helped by a 5pm Saturday kick-off, 322,000 watched Stephen Kenny’s men in Azerbaijan earlier this month with 330,000 rejoining the bandwagon for Qatar the following Tuesday, again, at the more accessible 7.45pm start.

The crowds are coming but Ireland manager Vera Pauw and the FAI have a far more pressing issue; the recruitment of an assistant manager with similar levels of expertise to Eileen Gleeson, who said her last goodbyes to the squad before boarding a Finnair flight to Dublin on Wednesday morning, as she now takes over as Glasgow City manager.

“She’s been brilliant since she came in,” said McCabe. “She knows the WNL inside out, she was my old enemy growing up and I got a few over her in our Raheny-Peamount days.

“It’s been incredible working with her for the last two years. I’ve learned so much from her as a player and a person and she deserves to go and lead a team like Glasgow City. I know them well having been there for six months [in 2017]. They have that winning mentality and I know Eileen will bring that too.”

The Yin-Yang element to how Pauw and Gleeson appeared to make in-game tactical decisions will be difficult to replace.

“I am gutted to lose her, I respect her so much,” said Pauw recently. “We say everything we want to each other without losing each other.”

Despite Tuesday’s result only being Ireland’s second match in Group A, it goes down as their greatest away win since the first ever international, a 3-2 defeat of Wales in 1973.

“It’s three points ultimately,” McCabe continued. “It’s the start of that belief we’re trying to instil within this team. Obviously it gives us confidence going into those two games next month but we need to remain humble with that.

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves and think we’ve qualified. To be a decent football nation, we need to keep our feet on the ground. We’ll take the positives from the last two games going into Slovakia and Georgia but also know we have things to work on.”

One obvious issue, highlighted by O’Sullivan post match, is how poor Ireland were in possession, which is a charge that can never be levelled at the Cork maestro.

“What can I say about Denise O’Sullivan?” beamed the skipper. “She is absolutely brilliant. She runs herself into the ground for her team-mates, for her country, for everyone.

“That’s the standards she sets in training. What you see is what you get with Denise. She’s an absolutely brilliant player and she 100 per cent deserved that goal.

“I like playing with Denise, I like when she’s closer to me, of course! We link up well, we’ve been playing with each other since we were 13 or 14 so I’d like to think we understand each other by now. We enjoy it. To run as much as she ran and still get her head on the cross from Heather Payne says so much about her.”

Back to north London goes McCabe for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Connolly’s Brighton and Hove Albion.

“I’m in a good place, and happy to be playing week in, week out with Arsenal and give everything I can to this Irish team. That’s all I’ll ever do until I retire.”

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