21-year-old Irish forward Katie McCabe was a periphery figure at Borehamwood last season as Arsenal Ladies struggled to keep up the pace with Manchester City Women and Chelsea Ladies.
Despite hitting double figures in league appearances, McCabe didn’t find the net during her first season with the club but did score the winning penalty against Notts County which put the Gunners well on course to secure the SSE Women’s FA Cup in May.
For a player who was at one point courted by both of Arsenal’s main FA WSL rivals before choosing Pedro Losa’s side, McCabe may have expected more from her first year in England after turning down several other offers.
But as Losa looks towards using his young players more in the Spring Series [which kicks off this weekend], McCabe is optimistic that 2017 will be a positive year for her.
“Arsenal have always been great for the development of young players,” she said. “The likes of Leah Williamson and Carla Humphrey have had that development here, it was such a loss to lose players like Kelly [Smith], Rachel [Yankey], Emma [Byrne] and Casey [Stoney] over the winter but it gives the younger players a chance now.”
As has almost become the norm in recent years at London Colney, it’s been a winter of upheaval as Pedro Losa tries to shape a squad capable of returning Arsenal to the top of the FA WSL, something which hasn’t happened since 2013.
With Humphrey back from a loan spell – as well as Chloe Kelly – and Williamson back from injury, the youngsters are now guaranteed a better chance than ever to begin a new era at Arsenal with the likes of Josephine Henning, Marta Corredera, Vicky Losada and Natalia Pablos all following the for mentioned foursome out of Arsenal over the winter.
But big games have come in too, including a trio of attacking players who will do a lot more than just keep the likes of McCabe, Humphrey and Kelly on their toes when the season gets underway. USA legend Heather O’Reilly followed former Arsenal star Kim Little who returned to London for this season, the pair then followed by current rising star Beth Mead from Sunderland.
“People ask me about what it’s like having these players come here and for me to play alongside people like Heather and Kim is unbelievable.
“It’s so exciting training with them day in, day out. Heather is a World Cup winner and it means I have to up my game too, I have to be at 100% every day, last year perhaps it took me a while to get going and get used to this level but now I’m really raring to go this season.”
Injuries could also open the door when McCabe when Arsenal kick off against Notts County this Sunday with Beth Mead nursing a shoulder injury and Kim Little missing the recent Scotland camp, and injury is something the 21-year-old knows a lot about.
Whilst starring for Raheny United in Ireland back in 2014, McCabe was preparing for the Under 19 European Championship when she broke her leg. McCabe did return in time for the tournament but her move to Florida State University was scuppered by the injury.
Despite a potential career in America now gone for the time being, the injury became a blessing in disguise when McCabe’s performances for new club Shelbourne and her first few appearances for Ireland began to attract the attention of England’s best.
Manchester City and Chelsea were both after McCabe as well as Scottish champions Glasgow City, but despite even going as far as having a trial under Emma Hayes at Chelsea, the flying forward chose Arsenal.
“It was a bit surreal, I was just going about my business playing and training in the evenings in Ireland and suddenly managers like Emma Hayes and Pedro Losa are looking.”
McCabe added: “I was grounded about it but I felt like I made the right decision because I’ve had a fantastic year. It was hard, I’m not going to lie but I’m so looking forward to this year.
And any thoughts of what might have been when she looks at British players like Rachel Daly thriving stateside?
“Who knows what would have happened if I’d gone to Florida, I’m not saying it wouldn’t have worked out but the leg break didn’t work out too bad for me either,” she laughed.
“I had a really good run with the Under 19s at the Euro’s and then the big teams came calling, I stepped back and looked at all the options and Arsenal was the one for me, I’ve no regrets about it.
McCabe also feels that the leg break came at important time in her career and it taught her a lot about overcoming difficult times as opposed to if it had happened later in her career.
“Before I broke my leg I felt unstoppable,” she admitted. “I didn’t think it would happen to me so for that to happen to me at 18 was difficult. It needs to happen when you’re younger, obviously you don’t want it to happen at all but it definitely made me stronger.
“Things don’t come easy, I’ve worked hard to get back with Arsenal and Ireland and now I’m raring to go…”