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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO Irish pride: Katie McCabe celebrates after the game.
# Captain Fantastic
Katie McCabe couldn't be happier after being 'f**king kicked up and down the pitch'
The Fighting Irish have been given permission to party by a ‘very proud’ Vera Pauw tonight.

KATIE MCCABE EPITOMISED The Fighting Irish tonight, the Republic of Ireland captain helping her side to a gritty 1-0 win in Slovakia — and most significantly, a World Cup play-off bye.

Denise O’Sullivan’s 36th-minute goal was decisive in dragging Vera Pauw’s side over the line in their final Group A qualifier — but McCabe, in particular, was pulled and dragged out of all the way.

The world-class Arsenal star was targeted from the get-go in Senec, repeatedly fouled but showing her strength and class in holding off the hapless Slovaks swarming her.

“Fucking kicked up and down the pitch,” she laughed afterwards, confirming she’s all good. Happy out.

Par for the course by now, it comes with the territory. She’ll pay no heed in being a marked woman.

“They obviously did their due dilligence on us pre-game and looked to maybe try to keep myself and Denise quiet. Kick me, try and get in my head. I rise to that, I enjoy getting kicked around the pitch, it brings me up a level. We got the win so that’s the most important for me.”

There was no shortage of needle in the second half, a lot of it stemming from McCabe being nailed by Diana Lemešová around the hour-mark. The Dubliner was visibly angered by the foul, mixing fire with ice as she put in a typically impressive display in the green jersey.

That concerned Pauw, though. “We wanted to get Katie McCabe out of that heat and bring Ellen Molloy up front because a red card was around the corner of course,” the manager explained. “So even though she was in control, there was a heat. Ellen is young so the gaps were being created. Katie was pulled out and came back to do everything she had to do. But that was the only worry because they did no create much.”

Despite the “ugly” niggle and “nastiness of the opponents,” Pauw, like McCabe, was “very proud” afterwards, both referencing four clean sheets in-a-row through a group run which yielded five wins, two draws and one defeat.

vera-pauw-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Ryan Byrne / INPHO Pauw celebrates at the final whistle. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Having secured their play-off position against Finland on an historic night at Tallaght Stadium last Thursday, the manager warned to celebrate, but not party. She gave her blessing for the latter tonight, the team getting a charter flight straight home. “Yes, they are allowed to party,” she smiled. “I will go to bed and leave them.”

The skipper was satisfied with the performance overall, and how her side grew into the game, reserving special praise for the back five who held firm despite Slovakia “chucking the kitchen sink at it” down the home straight.

“It was important for us to start right, more proactive than Thursday and a bit more front foot,” McCabe noted. “Second half they came out and looked to kick us, looked to — excuse the French — piss us off. It was up to us to stay in control, keep the head and let the football do the talking.

“There was all this chat of nerves on Thursday night but for me, we weren’t nervous, we were just adapting to Finland with a new manager and new way of playing. There was absolutely no nerves tonight. We were in control. We knew our game plan and we stuck to our roles and responsibility within that and ultimately came out on top.”

The post-match scenes were brilliant, the players and travelling fans alike jubilant in celebration as rounds of, ‘Olé, olé’ rang around NTC Senec.

“It was a different feeling on Thursday. Thursday was more of a relief that we actually got the play-off, today was just about that bonus of skipping the first round. It’s just enjoying it with out travelling fans.

“There is people here having pints with Ireland jerseys on, flags, kids, it’s brilliant to see. I know there is only a couple of hundred of them, but it’s brilliant to see the support. We’re out in Slovakia and people are cheering us on. I’m sure everyone at home was cheering us on as well.”

These recent achievements feel significant for Irish women’s football, a real sense that this is a proper breakthrough moment. History. New ground.

martina-surnovska-and-katie-mccabe Ryan Byrne / INPHO McCabe is hacked down by Martina Surnovská. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“You see what the Lionesses have done in the Euros over the summer, them putting the WSL on the map. We want to put the Republic of Ireland on the map. We want to be competing against the best teams in Europe and the best teams in the world.

“We want to give people tough games, we’re not going to make it easy for people to beat us. We’re here to challenge and we really want to make a major tournament.”

“We got quality in this team, you can see that,” she added. “I don’t think I was even involved for the goal. The play between Heather [Payne], Jess Ziu and Denise, like, Jess Ziu has been phenomenal these last two games.

“It’s not just me you have to worry about… it’s the lot of us — Megan Campbell’s long throw, Denise on the edge of the box, the Louise [Quinn] header — we got it, but we need to keep our feet firmly on the ground. We know we got a big game to go in the second round of the play-offs.”

The first round-bye is hugely beneficial, McCabe concludes, with the draw set for Friday and the Girls In Green now seeded.

“It’s a massive boost, it’s one less game. It’s massive, we can fully focus on the one game we have whoever we are drawn against. We will just give it our all really.

“Whoever comes out, that’s the luck of the draw isn’t it? It’s a cup final at the end of the day. Obviously we’ve done ourselves a bit of justice and got that bonus of missing the first round of the play-offs which was our target tonight.”

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