Ireland positive on Katie McCabe fitness with 6,000 expected in for Slovakia

Ireland positive on Katie McCabe fitness with 6,000 expected in for Slovakia

2023 World Cup qualifiers: Republic of Ireland v Slovakia, Thursday November 25th, Tallaght Stadium (kick-off 7pm, RTÉ 2)

Katie McCabe, of all people, is expected to shake off a foot injury sustained in Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Manchester United last Sunday, when she scored from the penalty spot and created the other goal, as Ireland stare down their latest ‘must-win’ game if they are to remain on course to qualify for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“Or at least ‘not lose’,” suggested Vera Pauw, who is finding it increasingly difficult to dampen expectations.

“The medics have been fantastic with Katie,” explained the Ireland coach.

“She has cleared every precaution we had to take with them, so she is cleared to train and to play but you will see a different format from her [at training].

“But she is fit.”

There really is no margin for error tonight. Ireland have a potentially insurmountable problem if the slickest version of McCabe goes missing. The 26-year-old has been so influential this year, connecting all the dots, with the likes of Savannah McCarthy and Jamie Finn raising their games to a whole new level as a result.

After the groundbreaking win in Helsinki last month, when McCabe’s counter attacking threat was far more prevalent than her defending, a competent Slovakia side must be picked apart, at the same time Sweden host Finland in two matches that should streamline Group A.

“We are realistic in where we stand and what our chances are,” said Pauw in Wednesday evening press conference that was switched from Tallaght to FAI headquarters in Abbotstown due to the M50 traffic disruption caused by truckers protesting fuel prices. “The girls are also realistic, knowing we have to have the same level we showed against Finland to have any chance to win. If we cannot put that on the pitch then we have an issue. We are not yet that good that we can do it automatically.”

The Helsinki performance felt like a permanent confidence boost for the group as it required the athleticism of Heather Payne as much as the doggedness of Áine O’Gorman.

6,000 fans are expected in Tallaght to see Vera Pauw’s Ireland against Slovakia. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

With the benchmark now set, certain individuals must continue to deliver, from New Jersey-born goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan’s renewed solidity to Louise Quinn’s tactical nous to Denise O’Sullivan being technically light years ahead of everybody. Maintaining the current momentum also means another set-piece special from Megan Connolly or Lucy Quinn.

Slovakia, ranked 45th by Fifa to Ireland’s 33rd, cannot be taken lightly after narrow losses to Sweden and Finland were followed by a 2-0 win over Georgia last month.

The Ireland environment increasingly sounds like a place where player development and well-being is paramount even while Pauw spoke on Wednesday about abuse allegations leveled at former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley.

Ireland’s NC Courage players Diane Caldwell and O’Sullivan came into camp last month just after details of the scandal were published by The Athletic but Pauw revealed on Second Captains that the squad did not discuss what happened as both players were receiving “psychological help,” via the club, and wanted to focus solely on match preparation.

“So that’s what we did,” said Pauw.

The former Dutch international, who coached the Houston Dash in 2018 after stints with the Russian, Scottish, South African, Thai and Dutch national teams, previously stated that she has experienced abuse at every juncture of her career before arriving in Ireland. She would not go into details about “fighting on the barricades” to protect female players but stated that such actions have hurt her career financially.

“And what we need to take care of is if a player gets coached by a man in a firm way that that is not abuse,” Pauw stressed. “Abuse is when you use your power to intimidate, to isolate, to minimise or to violate the borders of women and children.

“In that sense I think we are growing as a society, things are coming out, women are believed – that is a very important part. And from there I truly believe we will get to a healthy situation.”

A record attendance of almost 6,500 is set to descend upon Tallaght.

“I hope that Covid will not be spoiling it,” added Pauw, “because there are already schools that could not come, they had to cancel because of the Covid regulations, but [the attendance] is amazing whereas before we had to hand out a load of tickets to schools while now we are selling them.”

Ireland (possible): Brosnan; Fahey, Louise Quinn, McCarthy; O’Gorman, Connolly, O’Sullivan, Finn, McCabe; Lucy Quinn, Payne.

Slovakia (possible): Korenciova; Horvathova, Bartovicova, Fischerova, Vojtekova; Mikolajova, Biroova, Skorvankova; Hmirova, Surnovska; Zemberyova.

Referee: Jelena Cvetkovic (Serbia).

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