Tension simmered between Vera Pauw and Katie McCabe during the Republic of Ireland's goalless draw against Nigeria, with the Arsenal star's calls for second-half substitutions ignored by the manager.
McCabe urged Pauw to bring on fresh legs as the Girls in Green looked to end their first ever World Cup campaign with a victory in Brisbane.
The Dutchwoman did not make a change until the 84th minute, when she introduced Marissa Sheva and Abbie Larkin for Heather Payne and Lily Agg. Centre-back Diane Caldwell entered the fray deep into injury-time and the clash ended in a stalemate that saw the Nigerians progress to the last 16 alongside Australia.
Ireland fly home tomorrow, and have a homecoming event planned for Thursday on Dublin's O'Connell Street. However question marks linger over Pauw's future given her contract with the FAI is about to expire and there is no new deal currently on the table.
Her relationship with McCabe is now also under the microscope.
"Why would we change?" Pauw said when asked about her captain's request.
"If Katie McCabe wants a change, it doesn't mean… she's not the coach. Everybody was doing so well. So I said 'what do you want Katie, taking the best player off?' No.
"A player is allowed to be emotional, is allowed to say that, it’s fine. But during the game, I step back and analyse and make changes that are necessary."
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Pauw rejected the suggestion that she had refused to listen to McCabe, stressing: "No, no, no, because a player doesn't ask and you refuse. A player can ask always, but as a coach it’s not a refusal, as a coach you make decisions on what is necessary.
"A player can say anything to the coach, at least to me.
"Sinead Farrelly was arguably the best player on the pitch at that moment, so I was not prepared to take the best player off."
After the press conference, McCabe tweeted out an emoji noted for staying silent when wanting to say something.
🤐— Katie McCabe (@Katie_McCabe11) July 31, 2023
Asked if she believed she'd managed her last game for Ireland, and if she would be at the homecoming, Pauw said: "I don't feel this is my last game because we are going home from the World Cup. Why would I not be at the homecoming? I'll go back with my team. Otherwise we would have stayed here during the World Cup."
It's been a whirlwind few weeks for the squad. From the abandoned behind-closed-doors game against Colombia, to Denise O'Sullivan's injured shin, persistent question marks about Pauw's status as manager plus the emotion of three World Cup games, things have been relentlessly intense.
Picking out her most positive memory of the experience, Pauw said: "The incredible support that we got from the crowds in the stands.
"That is something so special, even here, there were 24,000 was it, and I think of the 24,000, 23,999 were Irish. That is something that we have never experienced on the other side of the world.
"I don't think we have experienced the away crowd as it is now, I think Ireland has made a huge impact in that. I think the games, what I take out, that we can face everybody and that if you look at the stats, that we're getting closer and closer and closer in everything, we are far ahead of schedule.
"I think that is the biggest thing of elite sport, that you inspire the next generation. That’s also why we spend so much time with children. The talented players from our elite centres feel also that they can make that step up, that they can play here. That wil give the whole game a boost, not only in quantity but especially in quality."