Katie McCabe: 'It's always a privilege to win player of the match, especially in Tallaght'Tue, Apr 11 2017
The Republic of Ireland carried on from their fourth-placed finish at last month's Cyprus Cup with a convincing 1-0 win over Slovakia at Tallaght Stadium.
While Steph Roche scored the game's only goal from the spot early in the second half, the scoreline is deceptive as a more clinical home side would have added a couple more to their tally.
The Girls in Green created a raft of chances after the break – beginning with the penalty awarded barely a minute after the break – and only inspired goalkeeping kept the count to a respectable one.
At the centre of almost everything good in Ireland's play was Arsenal winger Katie McCabe, who created the chance that led to the penalty and on another day would have got on the scoresheet herself.
The former Shelbourne player – a native of Kilnamanagh a short walk down the road from Tallaght Stadium – wowed the crowd with skill as she had the beating of her opposite number all night.
McCabe played the first half on the right wing and the second on the left, which conveniently allowed her to play in front of both the friendly home crowd for the full 90 minutes.
And it was the switch to the left, where she terrorised full-back Petra Zedchovanova and then her replacement Monka Havranova at every opportunity, that provided the game's thrilling moments.
The 21-year-old is a box office player who had the crowd on their feet with almost every touch, at one point nutmegging the unfortunate Havranova and striding infield to test the goalkeeper.
So there was no surprise when she was the unanimous choice of journalists for the player of the match award, and an approving cheer went up from the home fans when her name was announced.
And, surrounding by world-class talent from all over the world at the Emirates will only help McCabe continue her evolution into Ireland's most important player for years to come.
“It's always a privilege [to win player of the match], especially because I'm from Tallaght and having family and friends here,” McCabe told reporters.
“Obviously being across the water it's nice to be back so to be named man of the match is great, but I think there was 11 players out there in a green jersey that deserved that as much as I did.
“People are in pre-season and starting their season and stuff like that as well, so game time is always great for all the girls.”
It was a full-blooded affair that saw two Slovakian defenders, captain Lucia Harsanayova and Zdechovanova, leave the field injured – the latter on a stretcher with a potentially broken leg.
McCabe explained that they had to approach it as a competitive game, especially given Slovakia were already match-primed after facing Ireland's next opponents, Iceland, four days previously.
“[There were] probably [some feisty tackles] from me as well. There's no friendlies for us anymore – they're all proper test games, getting us going for the qualifiers in September.”
It brought Colin Bell's record as manager up to three wins, one draw and one defeat in his short tenure, the sole defeat coming to North Korea in the Cyprus Cup 3rd/4th place play-off last month.
“He's bringing some great stuff, obviously, with his experience, winning the Champions League with Frankfurt, and he was with Sand previous to getting this job,” McCabe said.
“He's teaching us a lot and we're willing to learn and we want to grow.
“He'll be setting standards, and we'll be setting standards as players on the pitch and in training because we want to qualify for major tournaments.
“We've not done that before but we're in good hands with Colin.”
Her manager added his own form of qualified praise, complimenting her performance while cautioning that she has a lot of improve on if she is to fulfill her potential.
“In the last third you're looking for these kind of players that can decide a match and be exciting.
“She's got to work on her end product and score more goals and create more goals, but she's showing great potential, she's got a massive heart and [she's] a great girl.
“These kind of players are going to be really important for us in the future.”
A crowd of just over a thousand showed up in Tallaght Stadium for the game – no mean feat given the Monday 2pm kick-off, but some way short of attendances in the last qualifying campaign.
What it demonstrated for McCabe is that the support is there for the national team and that can only increase with proper scheduling and better promotion from the powers that be.
“It was terrific. We loved everyone coming out, a couple of thousand,” McCabe said.
“I know it's tricky, two o'clock on a Monday, but we've got the support and hopefully that can grow going into June with the game against Iceland and the qualifiers in September.”