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'I'm devastated the campaign is over but I'm really excited about what the future holds for this team'

Another qualification bid comes to a disappointing end, but Ireland skipper Katie McCabe looks to the future with pride.

katie-mccabe-before-the-game Ireland captain Katie McCabe. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THIS IS ONLY the start, as Ireland captain Katie McCabe told her team in the dressing room moments after their Euro 2022 qualification dream was dashed on Tuesday night.

There was no miracle in Tallaght as world football powerhouse Germany consigned Vera Pauw’s side to a 3-1 defeat as they put the icing on a near-perfect Group I campaign; finishing with a 100% record, 45 goals scored and just one conceded, the only blot on their copybook being McCabe’s stylish penalty which provided a glimmer of Irish hope.

But the defeat, paired with Ukraine’s 2-1 win over group minnows Montenegro in Kiev, ended all hopes and dreams; the long wait to reach a first-ever major tournament continuing.

But the reality of the situation was Ireland’s chances of qualification were all but over before a ball was even kicked this week. Last month’s gut-wrenching, disastrous 1-0 defeat to their second-place rivals one they’d rather forget, and as Pauw said after, they left it in Kiev. A late Greek equaliser in Athens, has too come back to haunt this side, and this campaign is certainly a missed opportunity.

As Pauw and a handful of players faced the media afterwards on a bitter cold December night in Dublin, the disappointment and frustration was etched all over their faces. But their bright future was discussed on a loop.

“I’m devastated that the campaign is over but I’m really proud of the girls tonight,” Arsenal star McCabe, who took the skipper’s armband aged just 21 in 2017 and has since flourished in the role, said.

unnamed (11) McCabe facing Germany on Tuesday night. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

“We left everything out there and I can’t wait until 2021 now. We need to build off this campaign and we have a lot of talent coming through. We have got massive experience as well so I’m really excited about what the future holds for the team.”

16-year-old Wexford Youths star Ellen Molloy, who has lifted the Girls In Green with two late cameos off the bench, and Shelbourne duo Jessica Ziu and Izzy Atkinson are three McCabe earmarks as “really good quality youngsters that can come through and make the difference for us,” having been afforded her own breakthrough chance by Sue Ronan.

And while Pauw has done the same since her tenure began last September, she says, the question is whether she’ll stay on.

Although done with heightened emotions, the Dutchwoman’s post-match interviews suggested her future lies with this team, but uncertainty should be ironed out in the coming weeks as focus switches to preparation for the 2023 World Cup qualifiers.

And Dubliner McCabe is hopeful of continuity. “I’ve really enjoyed playing under Vera,” she enthused. “She came in and her first game was Ukraine here and we scored goals and played exciting football and got the record crowd going. We missed them here tonight.

“That was just the start of it and she really believes we can attack teams. We are not sitting off sides anymore. We’re not the Ireland that just sits off and waits to get back, if you like. We are front foot in attack and we have the talent up top.

“We put it up to the best there tonight and if Germany don’t go on to win the Euros I will be surprised. They are a top-quality team.”

While asked about equal pay and further fair treatment from the FAI, the Kilnamanagh native said it wasn’t in her thoughts right now, with purely football front and centre as this team faces a big gap before a window of opportunity arises for friendly games in March 

katie-mccabe-scores-a-penalty McCabe scoring the penalty. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I’m just trying to get over this, we’ll see what happens in 2021,” she nodded.

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No doubt it will be a difficult few months, and a bitter pill to swallow with the qualification boat missed once again. It’s made even harder by the fact that they put in some good performances, but that’s football.

“It’s difficult. For a good chunk of this campaign we put ourselves in really good positions but for us now we have to eliminate those little mistakes that we give teams. We could talk about Greece away and Ukraine away. They are games we need to be winning and I know we can with the quality we gave. We need to improve on those little areas.

“Since Vera come in we are front-foot with our defending and we are attacking more with the belief she has instilled in us from the start. The girls have been great through the campaign which we started with no manager. Then we had the pandemic halfway through it, so I can’t fault the efforts of the girls and the staff.”

“It was difficult obviously to concede the late goal in Greece and then the way we conceded the goal in Kiev, the penalty miss, Rianna [Jarrett] with a few chances, we really had no luck that night,” she added. 

“But as I said, it’s about limiting those mistakes. Of course we will reflect on the campaign and make sure going forward we will be a little bit tighter. 

Following on from that penalty that rattled off the bar in Kiev, McCabe certainly made amends in Dublin on Tuesday night. She stepped up to the spot confident and assured without a doubt in her mind, and stylishly dispatched into the top-right hand corner to make it 2-1 and banish the sleepless nights she talked about last week.

But it likely didn’t make up for the controversial spot kick she conceded at the other end in the 20th minute. Referee Sara Persson adjudged McCabe to have fouled her fellow captain Svenja Huth, before Lina Magull scored the opening goal of the game.

“It was a dive,” you could hear the Irish captain clearly saying, while Pauw threw out the German word Schwab after, which translates to her skippers’ claim.

“That’s the problem now with no fans, you can hear what I say,” McCabe said afterwards.

“Yeah, it was minimal. I’m not sure there was any contact there. If there was she actually came into me so I was disappointed obviously with the referee’s decision, but it happened and we just needed to take it in our stride.

“To concede the second goal, we didn’t let it get us down. We kept going and then for the penalty we received we got up the pitch and Denise [O'Sullivan] made her forward runs as usual. It was just my job to tuck it away as usual so it was nice to get back in the game and I really felt we could edge it over them.”

While she took little to no interest in the scoreline in Kiev, it just wasn’t to be for McCabe and Ireland. “We wanted to get back into it, get the equaliser. Frustrated that we couldn’t get that down,” she frowned.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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