Star duo: Katie McCabe and Denise O'Sullivan. Tom Maher/INPHO

Expect tricks and treats as standard setters Ireland close in on promotion in Albania

Will Halloween Night bring more Katie McCabe bangers?

KATIE MCCABE DELIVERED on the promise of ‘bangers’ in Friday’s 5-1 rout of Albania at Tallaght Stadium, but perhaps they’d be more fitting on Halloween Night in Shkodër.

The Republic of Ireland — and their 2023 Ballon d’Or nominee, in particular — should again bring the tricks and treats as they look to wrap up promotion from League B of the Uefa Women’s Nations League.

Comfortable wins over Northern Ireland (3-0) and Hungary (4-0), along with Round One against Albania, have the Girls In Green well clear atop Group B1.

Victory at Loro Boriçi Stadium [KO 5pm Irish time, live on RTÉ 2] could all but seal the deal, with one eye on Belfast where Northern Ireland and Hungary also do battle. A draw there coupled with a Republic of Ireland win guarantees promotion. A different result may delay the inevitable, but it’s looking very ominous, to say the least, with the head-to-head record in fine fettle from an Irish perspective.

Understandably, that’s all being downplayed.

“We’ll do Tuesday before thinking of wrapping it up,” interim head coach Eileen Gleeson said post-match on Friday.

“I don’t know all the maths,” McCabe grinned. “We just turn up and try and win the games and I’ll let you do that thinking!”

The captain was the hat-trick hero on her home patch five days ago, while also providing the assists for Kyra Carusa’s brace. Albania skipper Megi Doci stunned Tallaght by cancelling out her Irish counterpart’s opener within three minutes, and while the hosts restored their lead by half time, the first-half performance was sub-par.

The Balkan nation — 72nd in the Fifa World Rankings, 48 places below Ireland — certainly didn’t just park the bus, with twin playmakers Doci and Qendresa Krasniqi making things happen.

But, after an “open discussion” at the break, the second period was a different story: Ireland found their rhythm and Albania creaked as McCabe and Carusa turned on the style.

They assumed complete control and were much-improved in possession, something Gleeson and her backroom team are pushing through this caretaker campaign against lower-ranked opposition.

“It’s a mindset,” Louise Quinn said afterwards. “It’s something we definitely need to adapt to and for us to succeed in this group it’s really important that we’re completely clinical and for more than 45 minutes because there was a big, big difference from the first half to the second half.”

“We want to be better on the ball,” McCabe added. “We want to be in possession a lot higher up. And with that you are going to make mistakes. It is all part of it. You need to be brave to play those forward passes. I think we shown that we are capable of it, we just need to do it for longer.”

“You have to fail to be successful,” Carusa noted, echoing her team-mates words and detailing the growing confidence and freedom.

the-ireland-team-photo-ahead-of-the-game The Ireland XI from Friday night. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

Gleeson has been guarded on her selection for tonight. She made some tweaks to the XI on Friday, with Abbie Larkin and Izzy Atkinson handed starts out wide and Megan Connolly restored to midfield. There were some interesting calls with Heather Payne, Lucy Quinn and Amber Barrett dropped from the matchday squad. 

The official word pre-match was the former pair had niggles, and the manager later said it was “precautionary”. “Football decisions” was her response when questioned specifically on Barrett. “Everybody is back in the mix for Tuesday so… decisions have to be made,” Gleeson added.

Erin McLaughlin impressed off the bench in the No. 9 jersey and she came in for unprompted praise afterwards. The only home-based player in the squad, perhaps she could be given more of an opportunity this evening. Sinead Farrelly, too. Jamie Finn and Emily Whelan are among those to have regularly featured as substitutes of late.

But perhaps Gleeson and co. would rather go all in and build with their strongest possible teams, rather than continually changing it up. All the talk of complacency being the enemy and never underestimating their opponents may suggest as much.

After all, they are the standard bearers in this Nations League group, and they must continue to show it if they are to secure promotion to League A and, in turn, shorten their odds of Euro 2025 qualification.

Carusa said it best, as the in-form US-born striker so often does.

“We’re setting the standard. Nothing we did last camp, nothing we did last game, nothing we did last half means anything until we come out the next half and do the same, and we set the precedent.

“That is just what we have to get used to. Setting the precedent, setting the standard and knowing that we’re going to keep pushing it.

“It’s exciting.”

Here’s to more bangers, tricks and treats on Halloween Night in Albania.

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