After the protracted departure of Vera Pauw, the Republic of Ireland had hit seven goals in two games at the start of their Nations League campaign with back-to-back victories under interim coach Eileen Gleeson. Now they have put five past Albania.
Gleeson, previously assistant to Pauw, led Ireland to a 3-0 win over Northern Ireland in the first match day of the group before backing that up with an impressive 4-0 success at Hungary to come into the double header with Albania, knowing that another set of victories would edge them ever closer to a guaranteed Euro 2025 playoff place that comes with winning this group.
But on the evidence of Friday night under the lights of the Tallaght Stadium, this group may harbour ambitions to earn a place in Switzerland via a much more straightforward route.
Republic of Ireland
Brosnan, Larkin, Hayes, Caldwell, Quinn, Atkinson; Connolly, Toland, McCabe; O’Sullivan; Carusa,
Rexhepi; Metalla, Maliqi, Curraj, Gjini; Berisha, Krasniqi, Franja; Doci, Maksuti, Alma Hila
Ireland vs Albania: First half
There were signs from the start of the match that this was to be another Katie McCabe masterclass. An early corner from the Arsenal star almost flew in before she scored the opener just a minute later. Abbie Larkin did well down the right-hand side to beat Arbenita Curraj and send in a cross that McCabe controlled with that trusty left foot, before dinking a shot over visiting keeper Viona Rexhepi.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that an early setback would send an Albanian team ranked 72nd in the world into damage limitation mode. However, they stunned the Irish by levelling things a few minutes later, as Megi Doci ghosted in at the back post to get on the end of a Curraj cross to equalise. Ireland’s defence won’t be happy with how Doci made her run unopposed for the first goal conceded since Pauw’s departure.Embed from Getty Images
But the home side were back in front midway through the first half and never looked back after that. McCabe collected the ball on the edge of the area following a half-cleared corner, set herself into a shooting position and sent the ball into the net via a wicked deflection.
The second goal seemed to settle the hosts but it took until the second half for them to really get into their stride and hammer home the advantage.
Ireland vs Albania: Second half
McCabe’s influence was constant. After she shot over the bar and tried an audacious lob over Rexhepi that didn’t come off anywhere near how she intended, she was the creator of the crucial third goal. McCabe won the ball on the right of her own penalty area and beat two players with one movement before advancing and playing in Kyra Carusa who finished well past Rexhepi.
That combination worked to perfection again for Ireland’s fourth as McCabe’s cross was headed in beautifully by Carusa. There was still time for McCabe to complete a memorable night for her personally as she almost nonchalantly curled in a free kick having been teed up by Sinead Farrelly.Embed from Getty Images
It was McCabe’s 25th goal for her country and she could even have added to that when a late dinked effort went just over.
The win leaves Ireland five points clear of Hungary at the top of League B1 in the Nations League and a repeat win on Tuesday against the same opposition would all but seal top spot with two games to spare.
The teams meet again in Albania on Tuesday, October 31st, in the fourth round of Nations League games. Albania remain on just one point so far with Ireland on nine from a possible nine.