Katie McCabe: ‘This is the pinnacle - playing in your national stadium. We don't want this to be a once-off’
Macdara Ferris reports from the Aviva Stadium
With Saturday’s game being the first for the Girls in Green in the Aviva Stadium, in front of what will be by far the biggest home support with 38,000 tickets sold, so much of the focus for this week has been about the venue (once the chat moved away from Diane Caldwell Vera Pau discussion).
However, Saturday’s game is essentially the start of qualification for the next major tournament. Having qualified and performed well at last summer’s World Cup, EURO 2025 is now on the horizon for the Irish squad under new temporary managment.
Qualification for that tournament will be helped by the Republic of Ireland gaining promotion into League A from this upcoming UEFA Women’s Nations League campaign – with Ireland ranked the highest side in League B.
"The Nations League is super important,” said manager Eileen Gleeson when asked by extratime.com about the importance of the upcoming matches at the pre-match press conference held in the Aviva Stadium.
“We been driving that message home all week. Nobody is taking that for granted. We have spoken about as a team. This is the first step on the road to qualification for EURO 2025. We are not treating this as anything other than a competitive game, we want three points from. We know this is the first step on a longer journey."
Facing the Girls in Green on Saturday lunchtime are the Girls in Green and White who, while missing out on the World Cup, have big tournament experience from the last Euros. Northern Ireland also have a new manager in charge - Tanya Oxtoby has come in from her previous assistant manager role with Chelsea’s womens team.
“Tanya has a huge wealth of experience so we expect a very adaptable team. Any new manager galvanises new energy in different ways. I am sure Tanya's methods will cause a stir in their team. We are expecting a tough challenge tomorrow. They have also qualified for a major tournament. Tanya will drive them forward. They will come at us."
The Ireland players this week have been talking about their experience of attending matches in the Aviva Stadium, with many of them having the experience also of playing in the venue which previously has hosted the Women’s FAI Cup final.
The Republic of Ireland skipper Katie McCabe was quick to point out to her new international gaffer that she was on the scoresheet against a Gleeson led side previously when McCabe played in the Aviva.
“I was actually reminding Eileen in the car on the way here that the last goal I scored against her was here as well, said McCabe talking about Raheny United’s FAI Cup win over UCD Waves.
“We have had plenty of battles, back in the national league days playing for Raheny when you (Gleeson) were managing Peamount (United) and DLR (UCD) Waves.”
That women’s FAI Cup Final was played as a curtain raiser to the men’s final between Pat’s and Derry City played out in front of 17,000. There should be double that attendance for this standalone women’s international this weekend.
“38,000 is pretty incredible, right? Who would thought we would be here off the back of a World Cup, playing the first ever game here at the Aviva Stadium. I am hoping all 38,000 come tomorrow. I know those are the tickets sold. If you do have a ticket, come to the game, come and see us and support us.”
“Look it will be a great day out. We don't want this to be a once-off. Yes, we have Tallaght and we have created a lot of special memories in Tallaght. We've had great engagement with the fans in Tallaght but this is the pinnacle playing in your national stadium.
"It's a fantastic thing and as Eileen said we cannot wait for it tomorrow, it's going to be a spectacular day and we hope we can give the performance and get the result for our fans to be happy with.”
Both Gleeson and McCabe spoke about a different approach to this match with McCabe noting “we want to show the pride and passion in our performance but also we've developed some new styles this week which we can't wait to showcase tomorrow.
"We've always been defensively strong and solid but we always had that attacking threat as well. Hopefully tomorrow we can put all of that together and obviously put on a great performance.”