Sinéad Farrelly (left) on the ball with Katie McCabe in support. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Opposites attract for Ireland's fire and ice

Katie McCabe and Sinéad Farrelly can be ideal foils to unlock attacking threat.

KATIE McCABE HAS only served to reinforce her world-class credentials on the World Cup stage.

Yet still we’re left wondering how Ireland can get even more from a captain who drives her country on with a blend of supreme ability, power, resilience and bloody-mindedness.

It is a potent mix.

Finding the elements needed to complement her on a consistent basis so Ireland can become a more dangerous outfit in the final third is the next step in this team’s evolution.

McCabe turns 28 in September so the next few years cannot be squandered by the person in charge; maximising her ability to impact games at the highest level and turn them in Ireland’s favour is crucial.

One-goal defeats to co-hosts Australia followed by Canada have proven that.

McCabe will depart this World Cup after their final group game against Nigeria tomorrow, but the Dubliner has already made her mark with that historic first goal for Ireland in the tournament.

Vera Pauw has not yet been confirmed as the manager who will take this side forward for the Nations League and Euro 2025 qualifiers. It appeared that an agreement was imminent last month so there remains a degree of uncertainty on that front.

What’s clear is that McCabe is the heart and soul of this Irish team.

And against Canada in Perth we caught a glimpse of a partnership with someone who is a polar opposite, yet could blossom into the perfect combination.

sinead-farrelly-katie-mccabe-and-megan-connolly Sinéad Farrelly (left) and Katie McCabe (centre) with Megan Connolly in training. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

McCabe and Sinéad Farrelly offer Ireland a sort of dynamic that seems to make perfect sense because of the contrast it offers.

Farrelly’s calm, composed presence offers a different beat to which the duo can thrive in tandem down that left side, especially if McCabe continues to be utilised at full-back.

The American-born star’s arrival on the international scene with Ireland and the circumstances surrounding her seven-year absence from the game add a powerful element to her story, yet the 33-year-old plays with such clarity.

A deft touch and quick feet a calling card that will hopefully be supplemented by improved match sharpness and fitness provided the option of her contract at NY/NJ Gotham in the NWSL is taken up for next season.

Farrelly turns 34 in November and despite her late re-emergence to the top level there does appear to be a natural chemistry with McCabe; Ireland’s fire and ice.

And if Ireland are to persevere with the Arsenal star operating from a defensive position on the left, having a player of Farrelly’s ability further up on that side will be crucial if they are to maintain possession and prove capable of sustaining pressure.

Bluntly, McCabe will need someone who can keep the ball long enough, working it into the right areas, for her to gallop forward and support.

It was evident in that first half in Perth – when Farrelly was switched from the right side – that Ireland had more control on that flank, yet still had a spark of excitement that comes when McCabe is in full flow.

One blistering foray forward, which ended with her going down in the box under a fair challenge, illustrated as much.

So, too, a number of tidy bits of interplay that Farrelly was the architect of; the pick of the bunch being that ability to keep the ball in a tight space, spring from pressure, and release Denise O’Sullivan for a shot that flew over the bar.

Farrelly’s confidence in simply putting her foot on the ball and standing up defenders in a one-on-one, married with a knack of drifting inside to allow a clear avenue for an overlap, also seems primed to be explored – and exploited – further.

Farrelly was withdrawn in the second period when Canada had upped the intensity levels and taken control.

sinead-farrelly-and-katie-mccabe Sinéad Farrelly (left) and Katie McCabe. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

McCabe, along with Ruesha Littlejohn, seemed capable of matching that challenge while O’Sullivan was perhaps feeling the effects of that foot injury which almost ended her World Cup before it even began.

But when the shackles were thrown off in the final quarter of an hour it was McCabe still providing the dynamism and skill that came closest to delivering an equaliser.

Her jinking run down the right, followed by a chop between two Canadian defenders to take her inside the box almost delivered a stunning moment; only for her left-footed shot to be deflected wide.

Big moments defined by small margins at the highest level.

Tomorrow, McCabe and Farrelly could have another chance to shine against Nigeria. It’s a combination still in its infancy but may not need much nurturing to truly flourish.

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