Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
PA Katie McCabe will play a big role for Arsenal today.
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Katie McCabe's Arsenal face Chelsea in today's historic FA Cup final at Wembley
The Republic of Ireland captain will fly the flag on the big stage.

THE 2006/07 FA Cup final was a significant one for Katie McCabe. It was the first game of women’s football she ever watched on television, encouraged to do so by her father.

As fate would have it, Arsenal won, with two Irish legends, Emma Byrne and Ciara Grant, helping them lift the silverware. 12 at the time, McCabe followed it all intently, and a seed was planted there and then. “I want to do that,” she said to herself.

She remembers it all so vividly, and it’s a story she often revisits. The Dubliner did so with The42 in January 2016, a few weeks after signing for the Gunners, and has done so time and time again elsewhere since.

It was surely etched on her mind this week, as she prepared for today’s delayed 2020/21 FA Cup final showdown against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium [KO 2pm, live on BBC One].

The Republic of Ireland captain has been there before — though, suited and booted in the stands rather than in the matchday squad for the 2015/16 win, and a late substitute in the 2017/18 loss; Chelsea the opposition on both occasions — but this will be different.

McCabe will be one of the first names on the Arsenal team-sheet, having established herself as a key, world-class player at the club over the past season or two. There’s not much left to say, or write, about McCabe’s 2021. She has simply been a class act for club and for country, her deadly left boot unparalleled.

Her positioning has been debated no end over the past few weeks and months, but no matter where she lines out, she makes the left side of the field her own each and every time, with box-office skill and deliveries, while providing endless assists and goals.

Expect more of the same today, as Arsenal look to add some silverware to their burgeoning cabinet under new manager Jonas Eidevall, after a rare drought last season.

“For us, last year, not not getting a trophy didn’t sit right,” as McCabe said on Ireland duty at the beginning of the 2021/22 Women’s Super League [WSL] campaign.

When you play for Arsenal, you’re always expected to win trophies. We want to be up there amongst it again, leading the way hopefully. I think there’s five trophies this year to challenge for. I’d like to get my hands on at least a couple of them.”

This is their first opportunity to lift one, and would move them further ahead atop the FA Cup all-time list (they have won it 14 times) after a bright start to the WSL season.

A draw with Tottenham Hotspur right before the international break was the only blot on their copybook as they sit in top spot — though back-to-back champions Chelsea are hot on their heels and seeking revenge for their one defeat, as it develops into a two-horse race.

The teams are no strangers to one another, both cup final regulars and recent WSL champions, and have star-studded squads.

Screenshot 2021-12-03 at 12.34.44

A list of the FA Cup finals since McCabe first watched ^

No doubt the stars with shine on the biggest stage, with the battle of the some of the world’s best strikers certainly one to keep an eye on. Arsenal’s Dutch sensation Vivianne Miedema and Chelsea’s deadly duo of Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby will all be hoping for memorable days in Wembley.

While Kerr and Kirby’s connection is a telepathic one, Arsenal have one of their own in the McCabe, Miedema and Tobin Heath triangle. Beth Mead is another in sensational form, along with captain Kim Little, with their strength in depth a huge advantage this season. It’s needed too; England defender Leah Williamson is a big loss, sidelined with a serious hamstring injury.

On the flipside, the Blues defence is led by Swedish star Magdalena Eriksson, while her partner, Pernille Harder of Denmark, is an attacking midfield force alongside playmaker Ji So-yun.

The managerial head-to head is an interesting one, too: Eidevall has hit the ground running with an impressive start to life at Arsenal, but Emma Hayes has been Chelsea’s mastermind over the past few years, delivering so much success.

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chelsea-v-wolfsburg-uefa-womens-champions-league-group-a-kingsmeadow PA Emma Hayes with Sam Kerr. PA

While Eidevall and Arsenal had the upper hand in the sides’ September WSL clash, Hayes steered Chelsea to two pre-season friendlies.

It’s fair to say that all goes out the window today, though. As we all know, anything can happen in a cup final. That’s the magic of it.

On the 100th anniversary of England’s lengthy ban on women’s footballers, and the 50th anniversary of the FA Cup, a record crowd of over 45,000 is expected at Wembley.

With significant broadcast deals in place between Sky and BBC across the water, and everything on the up in women’s football, this would be another step in the right direction.

And a spectacle — with Ireland’s Katie McCabe central to it, to boot — would be even better.


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