KATIE MCCABE arrived in the Irish camp this week still smarting from Arsenal’s last-minute 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in the League Cup Final on Saturday.
“It was a tough one to take,” says Ireland’s captain, “ because I felt we dominated the game. I felt Chelsea were on top for the first 15 minutes but, from then on, it was ours for the taking. But that’s the way it is in cup finals: you win some, you lose some.”
Or, in the case of Euro qualifiers, you draw some. There was more than a hint of deja vu about McCabe’s experience against Chelsea at the weekend given that she went through something very similar with Ireland in Athens last November when a stoppage time equaliser for Greece restricted the visitors to one European Championship qualifying point.
“It was really frustrating for us because I felt we dominated the game,” says McCabe, who now has her sights firmly focused on setting the record straight in front of what could be a record attendance in the return match tomorrow evening (kick-off 7.15pm).
“For us to have Greece now in Tallaght, it’s going to be fantastic. I’ve seen the sales already and I’m hoping everybody comes out to support us like they did for the Ukraine game because that’s what got us over the line in that match. The support was incredible. I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve a fantastic squad to get the job done.
“But it’s going to be tough. Greece have shown us they don’t back down. They went right to the 90th minute with us, so by no means is it going to be an easy game. They’re very feisty (laughs). They did enjoy getting stuck into us but we don’t mind that. We love getting stuck in as well. They were very organised, they got us turned and they played in between the lines really nicely. They had a few really tidy players in midfield.
“That’s what we need to look at now going into Thursday — their strengths and weaknesses — and how we can score against them and look to get the three points. And that’s something else for us to look at when we are on top: how we finish teams off. How can we get the second goal, how can we get the third goal? We’re well able to score, we’ve got quality players to do that and very creative midfield players as well.”
It’s expected that McCabe, who played at full-back in Athens, will revert to her usual, more attacking role as Ireland look to impose themselves on the visitors.
“We want to get on the front foot nice and early,” she confirms, “because we have the power up front with Rianna (Jarrett) obviously flying with Brighton. I texted her actually, saying, ‘Keep those goals for Thursday!’”.
With Germany well out in front in Group I, Ireland head coach Vera Pauw has already suggested that, compounded by the way the other eight groups are shaping up, her unbeaten team’s most realistic chance of qualifying for the finals in England next year could well be through finishing in one of the six lower runners-up spots which would earn them a place in next October’s play-offs. But McCabe is not inclined to look that far ahead.
“Obviously, you look at Germany absolutely dominating everyone but I think, for us, it’s not so much a matter of first or second, it’s more the need to concentrate on each game as it comes. I know it’s a cliche but there’s no point in worrying about Germany if we don’t get the job done on Thursday night and then get another three points away to Montengro (next Wednesday). Then we can look at Germany away in April.”
Step by step, this is all about the tantalising prospect of history in the making for the girls in green.
“This has been our goal since the start of the campaign: to qualify for a major tournament, something that’s not been done before,” says Katie McCabe. “So I’m hoping - and I’m more than confident with the players and staff we have – that we can achieve that goal. And it all starts again on Thursday night.”