Leah Williamson on the Ireland skipper: ‘Katie [McCabe] is a big personality, someone who is very proud of where she comes from and has been authentic with the fans so a lot of people connect to her’

Leah Williamson in the Aviva Stadium on the eve of England's EURO 2025 clash against the Republic of Ireland

Leah Williamson in the Aviva Stadium on the eve of England's EURO 2025 clash against the Republic of Ireland Credit: Macdara Ferris

Christine Allen reports from the Aviva Stadium

The England captain Leah Williamson did not bat an eyelid as the thunderous rumblings of the Dart vibrated across the ceiling of the press conference room within the Aviva Stadium on Monday morning, so focused was the Arsenal number six on the battle to come in Dublin against the Girls in Green this week.

At club level Williamson has partnered closely with Katie McCabe since the Dubliner journeyed across the water at the tender age of 20 to join Arsenal.

When asked for her expert opinion on how England can put a stop to the Ireland captain, Williamson jibed with a smile.  “Well, if she doesn’t have the ball, she can’t do anything. That’s a good start.

“Katie [McCabe] is a big personality, someone who is very proud of where she comes from and has been authentic with the fans so a lot of people connect to her in that way, she knows her strengths and she has those strengths that can be game-changing as well.

"And she is someone who has raised the profile of the game, her game, and subsequently Arsenal. She has been an important player for us over the last couple of years.”

When asked by BBC reporter Jo Currie if the presence of the commanding centre back beside the England Head Coach at the pre-match press conference was an indication that she would be starting the game against Ireland, Sarina Wiegman answered in the affirmative, her characteristically direct Dutch manner giving a chuckle to the English and Irish reporters that peppered the slanted seating in the media room.

"Leah is an intelligent player," said Wiegman about the Gunners player. "What she brings is vision. Leah, in possession, is very bright and finds the right pass. The flexibility, the defence, being able to defend the space behind her together with everyone else."

Williamson has been unfit for selection for the Lionesses since her ACL injury against Manchester United in April of last year, a tear that forfeited both she and England's marauding winger Beth Mead from the 2023 World Cup Finals in New Zealand and Australia.

It has not been a smooth path back to the international setup for Williamson, who was cruelly recalled from the England squad in February due to a hamstring injury. 

Reflecting on how she has handled the long recovery process, the 27-year-old said. “It's been a difficult journey but I would be lying if I said it wasn't the thing I had my focus on. This is where I wanted to get back to. I wanted to get back into this squad. I have had some of the best memories of my life being a part of this team.”

The Lionesses have had a memorable two years under the astute and highly accoladed Wiegman, winning the Euros in 2022 before going on to lift the Finalissima in 2023 and finishing runners up in the World Cup.

On whether her return to play in an England shirt would be an emotional one, the Milton Keynes defender said.

“Yeah. It will be, it was emotional on Friday. I am an emotional person. You have all seen me cry on many occasions. If there is a team you want to be in in the world I think the Lionesses would be up there. I love playing for England.”

Looking to England’s second group A3 clash against Ireland tomorrow evening, Williamson gave her thoughts on what England could anticipate from Eileen Gleeson’s women in green.

“I am expecting them to be really disciplined in the way that they defend and saw the 1-0 result against France,” said the Arsenal player. “I think it’s going to be a test for us to move the ball, move them, you can see the battles. They have got key players up top but also a strong defensive line as well. I know all those girls really well so it’s going to be a good one.”

Much has changed since Williamson’s last international game against the Matildas in April 2023, with Tottenham’s Grace Clinton and Manchester City’s Jess Park entering the fray, yet the double FA Cup winner still feels very much at home within the dressing room of the reigning European champions.

“The environment is still a nice one to be in, which is great news coming back in. In the last year, we weren’t lucky as we worked hard for it, but in 2021 and 2022 things really went our way. We played such high level stuff and like we said about the Euros, everything we touched was golden.

“There were so many different challenges at the World Cup, different things from different teams. The World Cup is such a crazy environment and we found a way to win every time. You’ve seen different sides of England over the last couple of years, a team that shows its competitiveness against anyone. When we’re at our game, we’re impressive to watch.

The difference I’ve seen is the competitiveness but the want to be better within the squad is the same.”

On the significance she personally feels at the prospect of facing Ireland in their national stadium - given the rivalry between both countries and their complex history, Williamson said:

“I think whenever I play for England and we have had so many different games against different opposition, I think being a successful team puts a target on your back regardless and we often meet teams who really, really want to beat us. 

“But I always trust that we want to beat them more. From a footballing perspective, I think it is going to be a great occasion.

"I am so happy that the game is at this stadium, to have this many people coming to watch women’s football is a huge credit to what Ireland have done over the last couple of years as well and we are going to enjoy that.”