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Ireland captain McCabe: 'I had a few sleepless nights over it. It hurt for a while'

The Arsenal star on the past, present and future for this Irish team – and women’s football on these shores – ahead of the Germany showdown.

Katie McCabe with Áine O'Gorman after the defeat.
Katie McCabe with Áine O'Gorman after the defeat.
Image: FAI/Sportsfile.

IRELAND CAPTAIN KATIE McCabe is more than happy to stay on penalty duty.

“Absolutely, no doubt about it,” she smiles when she’s asked.

She’s brought back to Kiev and that gut-wrenching miss which left the bar rattling for the second time in a painfully forgettable first half. A first half in which an unfortunate own goal proved fatal against Ukraine, and the Euro 2022 qualification dream shipped a significant blow.

“I’ve not often missed a peno,” Dubliner McCabe, who was named captain in 21, says.

“On the day we played Ukraine, you knew what was at stake. For it to hit the bar… I had a few sleepless nights over it. It hurt for a while. Look, that’s professional football. They don’t always go in.

“I don’t think it was just down to that peno in the game. I think we created other chances as well that we could have finished off. I got probably the easiest shot of the game and I hit the bar.”

What’s done is done, and can’t be undone.

“It’s about how you bounce back and how you move forward,” she nods. “I made sure when I took my next one that I’d score it and I did.

“It was with Arsenal, I made sure I was first up. Obviously different expectations out of the end of the game but I needed to regain that confidence, and I slotted it away. I’ve put it behind me, as such, and moved on. You can only learn from it.

“We’ll have a few penalty practices in training this week no doubt, and I’ll hopefully finish them on Tuesday.”

Understandably, the Arsenal star would rather not dwell on the defeat too much, which was a huge opportunity lost to book a playoff spot, at least.

“The occasion obviously was massive. I don’t think the occasion got to us, as such. In games like that you need a stroke of luck and we just had no luck that evening. I think if we still had to have been playing there now, we still wouldn’t have scored.”

It just wasn’t happening, and the frustration and disappointment afterwards showed but the journey is far from over just yet.

“There’s still an opportunity to reach a playoff,” she assures, with an ambitious win or an unlikely Ukranian slip-up against group minnows Montenegro paving the way. “Yes, it’s against the Germans and we know how strong they are but for us, it’s going in with a game plan and sticking to it and hopefully executing it.”

That was a key message to get across in the days after the Ukraine defeat, as she rallied her troops to go again.

While McCabe stayed off social media after sending a tweet to thank fans for their support, she was unsure if any online abuse followed like that Alan Browne received after his penalty miss against Slovakia: “If anyone was abusing me, I didn’t actually see it.”

She kept her bubble close, and reached out to her likewise gutted team-mates. There was plenty of time for self-reflection, as McCabe carried out her duties as skipper.

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katie-mccabe-and-ruesha-littlejohn-dejected-after-the-game With Ruesha Littlejohn after the final whistle in Kiev. Source: Aleksandar Djorovic/INPHO

“Obviously Vera spoke to us and for me as a captain, I left the girls to it. I didn’t say anything for the remainder of the weekend and then dropped them a message Monday, and said my piece on how we can pick ourselves up and move forward.

“The fact that it’s not over still, there is that bit of chance against Germany. There’s still that bit of chance and belief to go, so for me to just instil that within the team and to make sure that we don’t give up anything too easily.

“We never back down to being the underdogs so for this Germany game, it’s going to be massive. We all know what’s at stake. If we beat the Germans, we get a playoff and anything less than that, we’re out. I think that’s motivation in itself for each and every one of the girls.”

Over the next few days in camp, she’ll lead by example on and off the pitch as the Girls In Green prepare to return to an empty Tallaght Stadium — a stone throw home patch in Kilnamanagh.

The fans will be missed, but McCabe is hoping she and her side can finish this positive campaign on a high for everyone watching on from home — and continue it, of course.

“It’s been massive,” she reflects. “Since I first came into the senior team, five or six years ago, the steps that have been made in women’s football have been massive. Do I think it can improve even further? Yes, I think it’s so important for our girls at grassroots level to be participating, and because of the 20×20 campaign, the FAI are putting a lot of work into that.

katie-mccabe Katie McCabe in training this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I have a young sister, she has just turned 12-13 and she is at that age where she can look to achieve to be a professional footballer. For me when I was 12-13, I didn’t see that as possible, and that’s because of all the little details of us playing on television, girls can sit at home and watch us and hopefully be like us one day.

“As the 20×20 logo goes, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. It’s so important.”

“For me playing in the UK, I have seen the leaps and bounds that the WSL has taken with Barclays coming in and investing heavily in the league,” she adds.

“I’d love to see a massive investment in our Women’s National League. We have a really talented league with talented players who can have great careers ahead of them, and for us always having to go to WSL, America or Australia, wherever it may be, let’s keep them in Ireland and let’s build off that. I’d love us to progress the league even further.

“I think Peamount were unlucky to get beaten by Glasgow in the Champions League, but Glasgow have been that bit more professional over the last number of years and if we can start closing that gap, that will complement our national team even further.”

And now, Ireland are playing with a confidence they can take into future campaigns, no matter how Tuesday night goes, with much more players playing professionally.

“That brings it up a level in itself,” the 25-year-old concludes. “We have learned a lot over the last campaign, and even the previous campaign. We are starting to get a real good core group now and built a lot, even though we have had a limited time with Vera, obviously due to the pandemic.

“We’ve made great strides and I’m really excited to see what the future holds for this team and I’m just so proud and happy to be leading that.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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