When the final whistle sounded in Gothenburg last Tuesday, everyone smiled. The points were shared between world number two Sweden and Katie McCabe’s Ireland. Although Sweden lost points at home for the first time in 12 years, she officially qualified for the next year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the point was enough to secure her place. However, those in green were equally enthusiastic and rightly so. There was something special about this performance from Ireland.
The top scorer and player of the game, McCabe, spoke to RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue immediately afterwards in a calm and level voice. She described the away spot at the world no. Emotions were in full control with our captain, who grows into an increasingly formidable leader with every performance.
I can’t help but think back to the last major result against a leading European team, when Colin Bell’s Ireland beat European champions Holland 0-0 in Nijmegen in 2019 World Cup qualifiers. Memories from that game include a series of goal line detachments in a back-to-the-wall display. On this day, the Irish team was under the hood for the full 90 minutes and there was no chance to sniff a goal.
Last week’s performance against Sweden was very different. Ireland, of course, was ultra-organized, with a relentless work ethic. But this team has more. More confidence, more skill, more experience, more faith. The latter is everything in international football.
It’s worth remembering McCabe’s goal. A free kick was won high up on the pitch and the normally composed Magda Erikkson opted for a yellow card as she slung Denise O’Sullivan over the shoulders. It was a wise decision to go to Megan Connolly, Sets Specialist, whose delivery ended up in the box at O’Sullivan. The North Carolina Courage midfielder calmly took out McCabe on the edge of the area and the captain’s deflected shot bounced past Hedvig Lindahl in goal.
Vera Pauw has consistently said they need a little luck for their side to progress, but this team creates its own luck as the players mature from game to game. Recent developments such as equal pay and additional resources bring pressure to perform. But these players continue to show they can handle it.
Goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan must have come close to winning the Player of the Match award. Under fire for not-so-memorable moments last season, she’s now showing her mental toughness and putting on a flawless, world-class show between the posts. The pressure of being an international goalkeeper, especially on this team, is immense. However, Brosnan deserves every accolade she gets, and critics have been completely silenced this time around. Great respect for the Everton keeper.
With the current level of this team, three points away to Georgia in June should be taken for granted. It is later this year, September, which will be the Irish WNT settlement month. Finland first at home on September 1 before Slovakia play away the following week. A home win against Finland could secure second place.
So the time has come for this great game of Irish women’s football to be played at the Aviva Stadium.
I don’t say that lightly. I was one of the voices supporting the change of venue for the FAI Women’s Irish Cup Final from Aviva to Tallaght Stadium in 2018.
I fully appreciated the pain the players felt at the sight. I was lucky enough to play at the Aviva. It remains one of the greatest sporting days of my life. But step back, zoom out, the domestic women’s game wasn’t ready yet. One day it will be like this.
But right now that day has come for the Ireland women’s national team.
We’re currently seeing images across Europe of crowds attending elite women’s football matches, including a world record 91,553 at the Uefa Women’s Champions League semi-final at the Camp Nou two weeks ago. Attendance at WSL and FA Women’s Cup matches continues to grow. Windsor Park welcomed 15,348 players last week as the Irish FA continue to push hard on their strategic goals for women’s football for 2024. Kenny Shiels himself, a man in control of his emotions at all times, may even have felt a slight excitement.
The Aviva is next. There are more pros than cons to this step. There is plenty of time; four months to launch, preparation and delivery. The interest is there. The quality is there. The drama will be there. The desire to support this team is there. A 7pm kick-off on an autumn evening at the Aviva will be a big step, but this team can handle the pressure.
I remember the double pack of tickets to the FAI Cup finals; the men’s game large, the women’s game small underneath. An afterthought, kicking off at 12.05pm when even the bars at the Aviva were closed. The men’s teams warmed up on the other side of the halfway line as we scored the winning penalty in an Irish Cup final.
Those days are over. This Ireland women’s national team has earned the right to play in a noisy Aviva stadium where fans can join them on this journey. Team sponsor Sky is urging players and fans to ‘exceed’ what is possible. This team is easy to beat; let us continue.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/womens-world-cup/this-team-deserve-to-play-on-bigger-stage-41560196.html This team deserves to play on a bigger stage