Ever-present McCabe a real leader in a year of ups and downs

The Irish Times - - Sports - MARY HAN­NI­GAN

It was, to put it mildly, an event­ful year for the Repub­lic of Ire­land football squad, one they’re un­likely to for­get in any great hurry. It be­gan with the ap­point­ment of a new coach, fol­lowed by that very public dis­pute with the FAI over pay and con­di­tions, be­fore con­clud­ing with their most en­cour­ag­ing ever start to a qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign for a major tour­na­ment, their last out­ing an out­stand­ing draw away to Euro­pean cham­pi­ons the Nether­lands.

There was, then, rarely a dull mo­ment.

When they were drawn in a World Cup qual­i­fy­ing group that in­cluded the Dutch and Nor­way, ranked 19 places above them at 14, the prospects of mak­ing it to the 2019 fi­nals in France would have looked re­mote.

And, re­al­is­ti­cally, they’re still a long shot for qual­i­fi­ca­tion, with three of their five re­main­ing group games against the Nor­we­gians (home and away) and the Nether­lands (home), but they’ve well and truly put them­selves in the mix after tak­ing seven points from their open­ing three games, start­ing with 2-0 away wins over North­ern Ire­land and Slo­vakia.

The draw in the Nether­lands was par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive in light of the fact that the team was with­out three of its most ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers – Megan Camp­bell, Áine O’Gorman and Stephanie Roche – but they still man­aged to keep the Dutch score­less, while cre­at­ing a few de­cent chances on the break as well.

Dra­matic im­prove­ment

When Colin Bell took over as coach one of his first tasks was to tighten up the de­fence - with a re­mark­able eight clean sheets

from their 10 games in 2017, it’s mis­sion ac­com­plished on that front, so far at least. And a set­tled de­fence has been largely to thank for that dra­matic im­prove­ment, with Louise Quinn, Diane Cald­well and Har­riet Scott play­ing all 10 games this year, while goal­keeper Marie Houri­han has es­tab­lished her­self in the side fol­low­ing the re­tire­ment

of Emma Byrne.

The fourth of the year’s quar­tet of ever-presents was Katie McCabe, the 22-year-old Dubliner who was appointed cap­tain of the side back in Au­gust and who has been con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent through­out the cam­paign.

A chal­leng­ing spell it was too on the club front with no lit­tle

up­heaval, McCabe join­ing Glas­gow City on loan from Arse­nal. By the time her spell ended last month, she had helped them win their 11th suc­ces­sive league ti­tle.

For her own form through­out 2017 and for her lead­er­ship of the team, then, McCabe is our choice for the Novem­ber Sportswoman of the Month.

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