Analysis: Can McCabe solve injury-ravaged Ireland's latest problem?

Ireland are depleted by injury ahead of their World Cup play-off.

Cooney on Soccer Masthead

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Ireland are closer to a World Cup than ever before but there’s still enough space for the bad news to accumulate. Jess Ziu was stretchered off for West Ham at the weekend, lengthening an already too-long injury list. Megan Connolly, Ruesha Littlejohn, Leanne Kieranan and Ellen Molloy are all out too, meaning Ireland will go to their World Cup play-off against Scotland or Austria without a third of their WSL players. 

Connolly and Littlejohn’s absences are the biggest issues as it decimates Ireland’s midfield, where Lily Agg will be the likeliest draftee to partner Denise O’Sullivan. Ziu’s absence creates a problem too. Notionally she plays on the right of Ireland’s attack, but in reality she sits in front of the right wing-back, who is likely to be Jamie Finn. 

The automatic replacement for Ziu would be Lucy Quinn of Birmingham, but she has played just 16 minutes of football since the last Irish international window. Can Ireland afford to go in under-cooked in a winner-takes-all clash against a team who had the benefit of a game a few days earlier? Probably not. 

There is one slightly creative alternative to the problem. Katie McCabe has the curious distinction of being both Ireland’s sharpest weapon and their Swiss Army Knife, so she might be able to solve this latest problem by switching to the right flank. In the campaign thus far, Pauw has played McCabe at left-back, left wing-back, left-wing and occasionally in midfield. 

But Ireland are now well-stocked for options down the left thanks to the returns to fitness of Chloe Mustaki and Megan Campbell, both of whom have been playing left wing-back for Bristol and Liverpool respectively. McCabe, meanwhile, has been redeployed on the right with Arsenal. 

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McCabe has recently been playing on the right-wing in Arsenal’s 4-4-2 and shown flashes of quality. Left-footed, she naturally cuts inside to do her best work, and she has been most influential when she appears in central positions. 

Here’s an example in a comfortable 4-0 WSL win against Brighton earlier this season….

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Gavin Cooney

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