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'I don't think chucking us into the Aviva Stadium mid-campaign is a good idea'

Republic of Ireland captain Katie McCabe weighs in on the debate as calls heighten for a home venue change from Tallaght Stadium.

Katie McCabe was unveiled as a Cadbury brand ambassador this week.
Katie McCabe was unveiled as a Cadbury brand ambassador this week.
Image: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

“YOU MEDIA HEADS are just warped on this Aviva Stadium idea,” Katie McCabe laughs. “Nah, I’m just joking.”

That said, there’s a hint of frustration in the Republic of Ireland captain’s voice. And understandably so, given she’s probably fielded a string of questions on the topic through a busy day of media duties.

Also, fair enough. The prospect of moving the Girls In Green’s home games from Tallaght Stadium to the Aviva has been a constant talking point in recent times, though noise has certainly heightened in the wake of last week’s monumental World Cup qualifier draw in Sweden.

Ireland’s dream of reaching a first-ever major tournament now likely hangs on a massive September double-header, with calls for a highly-anticipated home showdown against Finland to be played at Landsdowne Road. 

Ruth Fahy and Lisa Fallon among the big names in Irish women’s football leading the charge for a move to the 51,700-capacity Aviva. The team’s record home crowd is 5,238, achieved against Ukraine in Tallaght in October 2019, with the current capacity of Shamrock Rovers’ home ground 8,000.

McCabe, like most of her team-mates, has put her thoughts on the matter on record time and time again through the years, and was surely well aware she’d have to once more yesterday.

The Arsenal star was first asked about this week’s debate surrounding the use of Manchester City’s Academy stadium for Euro 2022. Iceland captain Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir slammed venue choices as “shocking” and “embarrassing” on women’s football podcast Their Pitch.

“I understand the frustration,” McCabe said yesterday as she was unveiled as a Cadbury ambassador.

“It’s not as if the Euros are being held in a country where there’s limited stadiums. I’d much rather play at the Etihad than the Academy stadium but if there’s an opportunity where we can, especially in a major tournament, use those bigger stadiums to get more spectators in watching the games, we should use it.”

So following on from that: Tallaght versus the Aviva Stadium?

katie-mccabe-poses-for-a-photo-with-fans-after-the-game McCabe meets young fans in Tallaght Stadium. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“If you’re asking me should we play Finland in the Aviva Stadium then I would say no,” the Dubliner deadpans.

“That’s just my personal opinion. I haven’t spoken to other players on that or to the manager or anything like that. I don’t see why mid-campaign we’d switch home grounds.

“I’m kind of contradicting what I’m saying on Gunnarsdottir’s comments but I think especially in the middle of a campaign, there’s no need for us to switch home ground. Tallaght is our home, we love playing there. I think until we start selling that out, there’s no need to jump the gun and start playing in the Aviva.

“I’m not saying we should never play there as the women’s national team, not at all. I do think going forward, if we want to continue to grow the game – especially in Ireland – Aviva Stadium games would be nice, but let’s crack it off with a friendly against England or the USA or something, not in the middle of a qualifying campaign.”

McCabe went on to talk about the special relationship with the fans in Tallaght, a stone’s throw from where she grew up in Kilnamanagh, and how that was best seen in that 2019 win over Ukraine, Vera Pauw’s first game in charge.

“That was the pinnacle; that was Tallaght Stadium absolutely rocking, behind us every step of the way,” she smiled.

“That connection with the fans, we don’t want to lose that. We love playing at Tallaght. I’d love to sell it out for that Finland game and have all the fans cheering us and have that engagement with us: whether that’s selfies, signing autographs… it’s massive for young girls and boys that look up to us and see us as role models. That’s something we want to continue, that connection we have with the fans.”

Later in the call, it comes up again. McCabe is asked how far off the team are from playing regularly at the Aviva, and that’s when the hint of frustration breaks through.

The 26-year-old gathers her thoughts after making that “warped” joke, and offers a diplomatic answer.

She stresses once again that she wants the women’s game to be played in big stadiums, but adds that timing is key.

“I don’t think chucking us into the Aviva Stadium mid-campaign is a good idea. It needs to be thought through and as I said, we need to continue to sell out Tallaght Stadium before we do.

“We’re at home at Tallaght, we love playing there, we enjoy it, our family come and see us there. I would much rather play at a packed-out Tallaght than maybe a quarter- or half-full Aviva.

“I think timing is everything. Maybe, possibly a friendly after the World Cup qualification could kick-start that, but as I said, there’s nothing concrete in that now. So yeah, just leave us be in Tallaght please!”

arsenal-v-wolfsburg-uefa-womens-champions-league-quarter-final-first-leg-emirates-stadium McCabe on the ball for Arsenal. Source: PA

It’s been a hectic week for McCabe: from the high of Gothenburg to the disappointing low of an FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea on Sunday.

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It’s something she’s become accustomed to through her glittering career thus far; managing her load mentally and physically as she now looks to keep moving forward through the Women’s Super League title run-in.

“Playing for a club like Arsenal, you need to be in those cup finals and competing for trophies. For us now it’s about full focus. We’ve four games left in the league – we just need to keep the pressure on. It’s difficult because it is out of our hands. Chelsea might slip up, they might not, but if they do we need to be prepared to capitalise on that.”

Alongside her at the Gunners is Swedish team-mate Stina Blackstenius; the pair having briefly discussed last week’s Battle of Gothenburg, though happier to keep club and country matters separate.

“She said we made it difficult for them on the night,” McCabe reveals. “She was happy for us to get the point. Stina is secretly rooting for her fellow team-mate, me, trying to get to major tournament!”

That quest continues over the coming months, with plenty of hype around the September showdowns against Finland and Slovakia, though Georgia is certainly on McCabe’s mind.

June’s trip to Tbilisi will throw up difficult conditions between the heat, the length of the flight, and players being at different stages of their respective seasons, and there’s a long way to go in Group A just yet.

“Everyone’s like ‘Finland, Finland,’ probably because it’s the last game at home as well, so I understand that,” McCabe concludes.

“But the Finland game won’t matter if we don’t do the business over in Georgia. It’s literally such a cliché but it is taking it game by game.”

- First published 00.01

Cadbury have unveiled Katie McCabe, as a brand ambassador to launch a new campaign dedicated to supporting Irish women’s grassroots football, ‘Become a Supporter and a Half’. 

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