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Katie McCabe celebrates her goal. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
stress free

McCabe and O'Sullivan sprinkle their magic in Ireland's easy win over Hungary

Ireland strolled to a 4-0 Nations League win in Budapest tonight.

Hungary 0

Republic of Ireland 4

IF THE PREFACE, BODY and afterword of Ireland’s World Cup story was filled with drama and distraction, the start of team’s next volume has been free of it all. 

Tonight Ireland made it two wins from two in the Uefa Nations League with a frictionless 4-0 win away to Hungary, following last Saturday’s 3-0 win over Northern Ireland. 

The main protagonist was, you won’t be surprised to hear, Katie McCabe. First she curled a stunning cross onto Caitlin Hayes’ stooping head to open the scoring, and then she slung a stunning, long-range shot into the top corner. Denise O’Sullivan deserves her share of the attention too, rounding out Ireland’s scoring after Kyra Carusa netted shortly after the break. 

On tonight’s evidence, Ireland are going to saunter to promotion to League A, which offers the chance of automatic qualification for the Euros and guarantees at least a play-off. 

There was only one Irish change from Saturday’s win, with Lily Agg replacing Megan Connolly in midfield, partnering Tyler Toland. That allowed Denise O’Sullivan to once again play further forward, in her preferred role as a number 10, behind a rarely-seen front two of Kyra Carusa and Lucy Quinn. 

Wing-backs McCabe and Heather Payne were generally very advanced, meaning tonight’s approach under Eileen Gleeson was much more assertive and proactive than it had been under Vera Pauw at the World Cup. But that point cannot be made without the heavy, heavy caveat of the quality of opposition: Hungary are nowhere near the level Ireland hunkered down against at the World Cup. 

But it was pleasing nonetheless to see Ireland grip the game immediately. Most of Ireland’s good play early in the game flowed through O’Sullivan, playing in front of Agg and Toland while given an added bit of space by Carusa and Quinn’s willingness to stretch the Hungarian defence with runs in behind. 

Payne was the first of the Irish players to come close, taking O’Sullivan’s pass and side-footing a shot that looked clunky but was almost effective, palmed onto the crossbar by the back-pedalling Hungarian ‘keeper. A few minutes later O’Sullivan slid a beautiful pass in behind for Carusa, who strode toward goal but saw her shot blocked by the recovering Laura Kovacs. 

But it was McCabe who was the architect of the opening goal. Having taken a corner on that side, McCabe lingered on the right-hand side, watching play unfold as Hungary repelled a couple of Irish attacks. But once the ball did make its way back to McCabe, she spotted Hayes at the far post and swung a stunning cross in her direction, which she could not miss from close range. It was a great moment for Hayes on what was her second cap, but the quality of McCabe’s pass was what grabbed attention. It was like watching Kevin de Bruyne through a mirror. 

Ireland were utterly dominant but became almost lulled by that fact, with the pace and precision of their passing waning. In fact, they didn’t create another chance until McCabe decided to settle the game three minutes before the break. Having pounced on a 50/50 ball with Hungarian captain Evelin Fenyvesi, McCabe took a touch before hammering a shot into the top corner from downtown, the goalkeeper left haplessly scrambling across her goal. 

It was a casually sensational goal from McCabe, effective from the kinds of central positions in which she didn’t occupy during the World Cup. She was released to play further forward after half-time, when Izzy Atkinson slotted into left wing-back replaced Lucy Quinn. 

And so Ireland’s third goal arrived within three minutes. McCabe again found herself on the right, pushed the ball down the line for the underlapping Payne, whose cross from the byline was met by Carusa and glanced into the net. 

Carusa came agonisingly close to a fourth just before the hour mark, heading substitute Abbie Larkin’s cross against the inside of the post. She was subsequently – and incorrectly – flagged offside. 

denise-osullivan-is-tackled-by-lilla-turanyi O'Sullivan sends Lilla Turányi out for the newspaper. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

O’Sullivan deservedly got Ireland’s fourth goal. The move began with substitute Megan Connolly dispossessing the hapless Fenyvesi, who strode forward and released Carusa, whose pull back to the penalty spot was swept in by O’Sullivan. 

Courtney Brosnan instantly had to make her first save of the game, diving to her left to comfortably block a shot by Fanni Vachter after Larkin and Hayes misjudged a through ball. 

The game trundled to an end, with Ireland’s biggest opponent their own wandering attention in a game that had been won since half-time. Hayes and Connolly picked up cheap bookings in Ireland’s sloppier moments, but Hungary couldn’t convert their improved territory to anything that could trouble Brosnan until the very final moment, after Virag Nagy fired a penalty-box shot right at her following a careless Louise Quinn pass. 

Hungary are the highest-ranked of Ireland’s opponents in this group, so we can declare without fear of hyperbole that Ireland are much too good for this level. No harm in reminding everyone of that fact, mind. 

Republic of Ireland: Courtney Brosnan; Caitlin Hayes, Louise Quinn, Diane Caldwell; Heather Payne (Abbie Larkin, 55′);  Lily Agg (Megan Connolly, 55′), Tyler Toland (Jamie Finn, 77′), Denise O’Sullivan; Katie McCabe (captain); Lucy Quinn (Izzy Atkinson, HT), Kyra Carusa (Amber Barrett, 74′) 

Written by Gavin Cooney and posted on

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