Ireland captain Katie McCabe. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Positive developments in Irish women's football 'send out a message,' says captain McCabe

The Arsenal star stresses that it’s now about driving on on the pitch.

KATIE MCCABE HAS hailed a “massive” few weeks for Irish women’s football, saying that recent off-field developments “send out a message”.

The Ireland captain believes it’s now about backing it up on the pitch, confident that more positivity will follow in that regard.

Last month, the FAI announced equal match appearance fees for the men’s and women’s teams, while last week, Sky came on board as the first-ever primary sponsor of the women’s team on a four-year deal.

With TG4 also set to broadcast Women’s National League [WNL] games in the coming weeks, the positive developments have come thick and fast. They’ve also been perfectly-timed, ahead of Ireland’s 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign.

McCabe happily sums up just how important these landmark steps are, and the impact they have on Vera Pauw’s side as their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament begins once again.

“It’s massive,” the Arsenal star told The42 ahead of next Tuesday’s international friendly against Australia at Tallaght Stadium. “Where we were at a few years ago to where we’re at now speaks volumes on how quick the women’s game is developing and progressing.

“The equal pay, that’s been something in the works which I was delighted to to get over the line just before the start of our campaign. That wouldn’t have been able to happen without the help of [FAI CEO] Jonathan Hill coming in and listening to us, and the help of Seamus [Coleman] and the men’s team and obviously our representative, Ciaran Medlar.

“When it was announced, I felt so proud. I was a young player coming into the the team when we had to do the strike, not knowing too much about it, with Emma Byrne leading the way back then – to now obviously getting to where we’re at with equal pay.

“It wasn’t about money or anything like that, it was just about parity for us. Having equal opportunity, having the resources – just the equality was the most important thing for us.

“The equal pay is absolutely fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more the message that it sends out to young girls and young boys growing up in Ireland. For me, it’s wanting to leave this squad in a better position for the next generation. I think we’re on the right track with that. To be able to reach an agreement was was great.”

“The Sky thing is massive,” she added. “Obviously in the history of the FAI, we’ve never had a primary sponsor for the women’s team. To have that now and have a brand like Sky come on board to get behind us for the next four years is incredible. They’re a well known brand all across the world, so to have them with us now is really exciting.”

The pay parity deal, in place with immediate effect, involves Stepen Kenny’s men’s squad reducing their fees, with the FAI matching their contribution to ensure that the pay received by the senior women’s team is aligned with that of their male counterparts.

“Seamus and the lads, they took a cut for us to come up,” McCabe nodded. “I just think it sends out a message to Ireland that we’re in this together – and I think that really shows unity, which is what Irish people are about.”

The Dubliner believes it relays a strong statement elsewhere too. Asked about the recent issues in Irish women’s rugby and the fallout since last weekend’s women’s inter-pros changing facilities fiasco, McCabe noted:

“For me, it would be unfair to comment on other sports because I don’t know enough about the sport. But in saying that, I think our situation does send out a message to other governing bodies in the sporting world – and even women’s teams all over the world.

“I know a couple of countries that are going through the same process to what we’ve just done and they’ve tried to get in touch with me to ask for advice. It definitely has created a movement.

“Obviously we’ve joined a select few nations that have the equal pay: Norway, Australia, Brazil; there’s only a small number. As of recently I think America are close to getting over the line with their pay situation or contracts.

“For me, it’s never nice to see stories like that go on, but it’s up to the governing bodies to do better, and to move with the times. We can’t be still reading stuff like that in 2021.”

Following a lengthy journey to this point, McCabe feels the onus is now on her side to back up positive off-pitch moves through their football, as they look to bounce back from a difficult run of results.

The Girls In Green have suffered seven defeats on the bounce, a streak stretching back to March 2020. Most of the losses have come at the hands of higher-ranked opposition, though.

That’s something the 25-year-old skipper is keen to stress, highlighting the improvements made and positives on show: from the second-half fightback in the Iceland friendly — reducing a 3-0 deficit to the minimum — to a host of chances created against Denmark and Belgium.

“The level of quality we’ve played in the last few months has been ranked way above us. We don’t want to be playing teams that are ranked below us, you don’t learn as much. You might win a game, and win it comfortably, but it doesn’t teach you much.

“Even if you go back to the Iceland game: the first half of that first game, we’re 3-0 down. ‘Okay, how do we react? How do we adapt to that?’ I think the second half spoke volumes on how far ahead we are as a team in those adaptations, whether that’s formation or mentality. I think that is down to playing against those big teams.

“Playing the likes of Australia now next week again, it’s another tough opponent. It tests us for this massive campaign. It’s a challenge and obviously we want to get back to winning ways but I think playing those tough opponents really prepare us in a different way rather than getting a win, if that makes sense.”

katie-mccabe McCabe on the ball for Ireland earlier this year. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

That said, is there pressure to produce a result either against the Matildas, or early on in their World Cup qualifying campaign?

“I think there’s always pressure when you’re putting on your Ireland shirt and representing your country. There’s a lot we’ve improved on, and I think we’re ready to show that next week against Australia.

“Don’t get me wrong, we won’t be underestimating them. They’re very, very talented side with a lot of top-quality players; the likes of Sam Kerr, I know Caitlin Foord is injured but they’ve got some really, really good players. Even welcoming the fans back as well, that will be massive. It will be one to look forward to.”

It’s certainly good preparation for their Group A qualifiers, which begin next month. In a pretty daunting start, Ireland welcome the world’s second-ranked team, Sweden, to Dublin on 21 October, before facing second seeds Finland [25th] at Helsinki’s 39,500-seater Olympic Stadium five days later. [Ireland are ranked 33rd]

Being realistic, qualification is certainly going to be a tough ask. But this team are well able, having come so close over the past few years. Just how important is it, that this group reaches a major tournament and etches their names into history?

McCabe can’t help but smile. “It’s something I want so bad. I really want to get there. The key for us is the belief; to believe in ourselves. It’s a cliché I know, but that togetherness we have, you can’t buy that. It’s important going in that we believe that we can get there.

“Going into every single game, whether that be Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Georgia, we need to have that belief carried with us those games, to make sure we get the wins.”

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