McCabe and Co can make history in the Hampden Park spotlight – The Irish Times
Scotland v Republic of Ireland
Hampden Park, 8 p.m. – Live RTÉ Two
There is no shortage of distractions ahead of these World Cup qualifiers, the result of which will resound for decades.
Katie McCabe knows the drill. The Irish skipper took every curveball thrown her way at Hampden Park and smiled, deflecting the quest for an emotional response. “It’s getting deep, isn’t it?” I have to go practice!”
Moments later, the Arsenal winger was in his happy place as the Irish players skipped their warm-up on a wet evening in Glasgow.
The train strike delayed them, caught in rush hour traffic. Tuesday night promises to be even more eventful as Celtic entertain Red Bull Leipzig across town in Paradise, a situation deemed acceptable by UEFA; put a career-defining women’s international against the Champions League. Only 10,000 are expected for a cold kickoff at 8 p.m., but that number could rise during the day as hints of the green army emerge.
The kick-off is a major advantage for Ireland because by half-time, at the latest, everyone will know if victory sends them straight to Australia and New Zealand next summer or if a stoppage at the stand at Waikato Stadium is needed to beat a minnow nation in an Intercontinental Playoff. February 22. With the other qualifiers, Switzerland v Wales and Portugal v Iceland starting at 6pm, all permutations will be over when Swiss referee Esther Staubli blows the final whistle.
Disjointed tee times and a conflict of interest over national loyalties would never happen in the men’s game.
Don’t rule out penalties either. Twice in the past week Ireland coach Vera Pauw has been asked about the kicking plan, and twice the response has been monosyllabic. No penalty was buried on the grass at Hampden last night. “You can’t duplicate the pressure of the crowd,” explained the Dutch coach. “You can’t, there’s no way to do it.”
Pauw always has a plan. His starting XI will be interesting, mainly because Ireland lacks body. Lily Agg is expected to hold midfield alongside Denise O’Sullivan, but McCabe could drift inside to help contain Real Madrid’s Caroline Weir and Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert. Megan Connolly is sorely missed. Same for Jess Ziu.
“They’re going to be dangerous and looking to get in their pockets,” McCabe said. “Obviously it’s Pedro’s style to keep the ball and get the teams moving, so they’ll probably be looking to do that. It’s going to be an interesting game.”
Scotland manager Pedro Martínez Losa signed McCabe from Arsenal in 2015, so she and O’Sullivan will be ruthlessly targeted by the Scottish blades, as they have been throughout the campaign.
That theory is now established – kick the two Irish stars – so Staubli will have to be vigilant.
The other decision Pauw has to make is between Lucy Quinn and Kyra Carusa behind lone forward Heather Payne. Carusa’s Champions League exposure for Danish side HB Køge is more valuable than playing second-tier English football for Birmingham City. Quinn and possibly Shelbourne teenager Abbie Larkin provide new attacking options late on.
More importantly, Ireland’s ultra-experienced full-backs Louise Quinn, Niamh Fahey and Diane Caldwell cannot lose Abigail Harrison to the blazing spotlight, as Austria did to a Cutbert inswinger last Thursday.
Similarly, Scotland must be ready for Megan Campbell’s long throws.
It was supposed to be the Austrians’ hour but the pressure of the all or nothing scenario stifled their flow. It won’t happen to McCabe and Ireland, not after Helsinki and Gothenburg.
“We’ve experienced it a few times throughout the campaign, against Finland home and away, Slovakia home and away, Sweden away, they’re all huge games. and I think having played in these pressure matches, where they are unavoidable, we are used to it.”
Sweden away was more of a game not to lose as that precious draw brings them to this moment.
“We can’t replicate what’s going to happen tomorrow night, but it will be similar to those pressure situations,” McCabe added. “When it comes to game day, you’re ready and in the zone to go out and give 100% for over 90 minutes.”
She always does. The others have followed her and O’Sullivan almost flawlessly through this campaign, but genuine concerns persist. Ireland have been handcuffed by the Pauw system, which to be honest has worked more than it has stagnated, but Slovakia and Finland have both come to Tallaght with tactical tricks Martínez Losa can reuse.
Especially those who open the 30 minutes against Finland, when Ireland should have been down 2-0. It took a video session at halftime to settle the discomfort.
It cannot be repeated, not with so much riding on this result. So many eyes will be on McCabe’s disciplined squad if they reach a major tournament.
At a time when the men’s team seems unable to make that leap, McCabe can take this moment lightly and make history. O’Sullivan has the same ‘windfall’, as New Zealanders might tell them next year.
IRELAND (possibly): Brosnan (Everton); Fahey (Liverpool), Caldwell (Reading); Finn (Birmingham City), O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Agg (London City Lionesses), Campbell (Liverpool); Carusa (HB Koge), McCabe (Arsenal); Payne (Florida State Seminoles).
Arbitrator: Esther Staubli (Switzerland).