The Republic of Ireland captain Katie McCabe is ready to make the Aviva Stadium home tomorrow, as the Girls in Green take on Northern Ireland in the Nations League.
The game marks a series of firsts; a first match in charge for interim manager Eileen Gleeson and NI manager Tanya Oxtoby, a first showcase for the Republic of Ireland since they’ve returned home from the World Cup, and, perhaps most importantly, their first game at the Aviva Stadium.
The Arsenal star however is keen to make sure it won’t signal their last outing there, even if that might “put a bit of pressure on the FAI.”
"We don't want this to be a once-off thing," she says, speaking at a press conference earlier today.
"Yes we love Tallaght, we have created a lot of special memories in Tallaght, we have great engagement with our fans in Tallaght, but this is the pinnacle, playing in your national stadium.
"Maybe we might see this going in the future…It’s a fantastic thing. Myself and the girls, we cannot wait for tomorrow. It’s going to be a spectacular day. We hope we can give the performance and get the result for our fans to be happy with."
The FAI are now projecting 37k people will be at the match on Saturday, meaning it would be around 5 times the current WNT record of 7,633.
56,114 is the current record overall for a women’s sport event in Ireland, set in the 2019 LGFA final at Croke Park.@HerSportDotIE https://t.co/uyQA73Hc4O
— Alanna Cunnane (@acunnane10) September 21, 2023
Over 37,000 people are expected to attend the monumental occasion, demonstrating the extreme growth in fanbase the WNT have accumulated over the last number of years and months.
But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility, and under that increased scrutiny comes another level of expectation too, only added to by the ongoing saga unfolding with former manager Vera Pauw.
"I hope to see thousands of boys and girls coming out to cheer us on. We seen all the support online over the summer and in Australia as well, but this will be the first time we will see it at home” she says.
“There is going to be expectation on us now…We are a team that has qualified for our first-ever major tournament.
“With that, there are more eyes on us, more people watching us, more opinions on us…We understand that but we want to embrace that as well. Playing for your country is always a massive honour but you need to perform at the highest level.”
“It’s been a whirlwind” Northern Ireland manager Tanya Oxtoby says, looking ahead to the game with the Republic of Ireland tomorrow ☘️
It’s her, and Eileen Gleeson’s first game in charge, and what a game it will be with over 35k fans looking on! @HerSportDotIE pic.twitter.com/axQpJPzsrH
— Alanna Cunnane (@acunnane10) September 22, 2023
ROI under Eileen Gleeson
Katie McCabe may be ready to make the Aviva Stadium home, but it is yet to be discovered what type of football the team will play under Eileen Gleeson’s roof.
Both the captain, and the new interim manager stressed that they “won't be underestimating Northern Ireland”, and that even in the midst of such a landmark event they still have a task at hand.
McCabe also emphasised that the squad have “developed some new styles this week” which they are eager to “showcase” on tomorrow’s stage, perhaps alluding to a more attacking presence than was existent in Pauw’s edition of the team.
Gleeson echoed these thoughts, saying that they’ve been “working on being really adaptable.”
The former Peamount United manager was in a jovial mood, quick witted into action when McCabe was asked will many of her family will be attending.
“25,000” jokes Gleeson, “and that’s just mine and Denise [O’Sullivan]’s” McCabe tagged on.
In all seriousness though tomorrow’s gameday symbolises a breakthrough moment for women’s football in this country, an “incredibly special” moment that isn’t going to pass the experienced Gleeson by.
"I can't think of a bigger honour than to be involved in this moment. We really want to connect with the fans and give them a good experience. It's the biggest moment so far” she says.
“I’ve been involved in football for many years in Ireland. I've been involved for more years than since Katie was born” she laughs.
“I can't describe my love for Irish football, it's in your soul and I've stayed in Ireland deliberately, committed to Irish football, so to walk out in the Aviva Stadium to 38,000 people, that's just the pinnacle of where we are right now.”
Prepped and ready to go for the “tough challenge” tomorrow may be yet another building block towards gender parity in sport, but as Gleeson sees it, it’s also the first step on the road to Euro 2025, one which won’t be taken for granted.
— Ireland Football ⚽️🇮🇪 (@IrelandFootball) September 22, 2023