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'It was nice to get her on the pitch and give her something to smile about'

Ireland secured a monumental result in Sweden last night – and continue to inspire the next generation on their journey.

Updated Apr 13th 2022, 8:39 AM

AS THE REPUBLIC of Ireland squad celebrated a monumental result, there was room for one special guest.

The Girls In Green had just battled to an incredible 1-1 draw with Sweden, the world’s second-ranked side, in Gothenburg, with the 2023 World Cup qualification dream more alive than ever.

The Swedes secured their own ticket to the finals in Australia and New Zealand 2023, but it was the visitors who enjoyed more of a party in the end. As players showed their appreciation for the travelling support at the Gamla Ullevi Stadium, Vera Pauw arrived back to the group with a familiar face in tow.

Seven-year-old Annie Holland had been surprised with a visit to training on Monday, where she met the squad and was treated to match tickets and a signed jersey. The O’Gorman 13 shirt was still on her back as she reunited with her heroes on the pitch, having greeted them from the team bus before kick-off.

It’s the latest of many lovely stories encapsulating just how much Katie McCabe and Co. are inspiring the next generation.

“That’s what this team is all about,” the captain beamed afterwards.

“The relationship we have with our fans, the interaction. It was her birthday yesterday, she came to the training session and met the team so it was nice to get her on the pitch today and give her something to smile about.

That’s what we want to create, we want to make sure we’re visible to the younger generation – to aspire to be like us, and hopefully be even better than us when they get to our age. That connection we have with our fans is something special and I really want that to continue

It also highlights the notable shift in recent years; McCabe herself having looked up to Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and the likes, as she and most of her team-mates had no choice but to admire male role models.

Now, Annie and her generation have the likes of Arsenal’s Dublin star, Denise O’Sullivan and heroic goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan to aspire to.

The pathways are there to be followed, with Ireland’s lucky charm in Gothenburg among the thousands of kids participating in the Soccer Sisters Easter camps next week.

Can see, can be.

“Exactly,” McCabe smiles. “That’s down to what the players have done before us, what we’re doing currently, the support we have from the FAI, really investing in grassroots football. It’s only going one way.”

Up.

They are yet to reach a major tournament, and this result was but another landmark along the way.

“It’s just another step in the direction we want to go, in terms of World Cup qualification,” McCabe smiled.

“We’ve got three massive games now, but we’ll be taking it game-by-game.”

Next up is a trip to Tbilisi to face Group A’s minnows Georgia on 27 June, before a massive double-header in September against second-place rivals Finland at home and Slovakia away. The Finns’ facile win over Georgia last night moved them into the play-off spot, but Ireland are just two points behind with a game in hand — and the ball in their court after a 2-1 win in Helsinki in October.

That was a significant result and occasion to be celebrated, just like last night in Gothenburg and another big draw with the Dutch in Nijmegen in 2017.

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“They are experiences that we share as a team – results against Finland and the Netherlands, that game was relentless,” McCabe noted.

“Sometimes you create your own luck and we did that today. We didn’t get into their final third often but when we did we made it count. Delighted with the point. It was a real team effort.”

Her attention now turns back to club duty and the Women’s Super League run-in with Arsenal, where she will join forces once against with Swedish superstar Stina Blackstenius.

The pair exchanged jerseys after the game, in another nice post-match moment.

“Myself and Stina have become great friends, I enjoy playing with her and I’d rather have her with me than against me because I know how dangerous she can be,” McCabe added.

“We’re good friends and we spoke beforehand about swapping shirts as number 11s. We’re not enemies any more, we will be team-mates, preparing for Sunday.”

In the final episode of the series, The Front Row – The42’s new rugby podcast in partnership with Guinness – welcomes comedian Killian Sundermann in to studio. The online funnyman fills us in on his schools rugby days, gaining recognition during the pandemic, making his stand-up debut and travelling around Europe in a van. Click here to subscribe or listen below:


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Emma Duffy

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