McCabe leaves lasting impact as leader on and off the field
Hayden Adams | Friday, May 17, 2019
Tommy McCabe’s contributions to Notre Dame have never been accurately measured with statistics. The junior center midfielder, who is graduating this weekend thanks to an early enrollment, only took 12 shots this season — failing to convert on any — and recorded two assists on the year. However, he has done far more for the team than can be represented with numbers.
“Sophomore and junior years, [the mentality was,] ‘OK, now you’re a starter and what else can you do? What else can you provide for the team on and off the field? What role can you take in the locker room?’” McCabe said. “And for me, it was just providing a good example for other guys of how to have a professional attitude when it comes to soccer and putting in the work and the effort in practice and out of practice and just showing up every day, ’cause I think it’s hard for a lot of guys to be the big leader on the team. But doing those small things, a lot of the younger guys can look up to that and say, ‘I can do that, as well.’”
McCabe said coming in early was something he benefited from, as it forced him to adapt and allowed him to develop a greater maturity level.
“I came in a semester early … in January, 2016, so [I] kind of came in by myself,” McCabe said. “And that was an interesting kind of growth period, where you’re the only new kid on the team — it’s not like you’re [with] the whole incoming class. But I think in the long run, that helped me when it came to the full season, because I had already adjusted to the school — adjusted to the team — and was able to kind of take a bigger role on the team from freshman year [onward].”
Being thrown into the fire early proved successful for McCabe. Not only was he named to the ACC All-Freshman Team in his first year, he was named the 10th-best freshman in the country by TopDrawerSoccer at the end of the year. McCabe’s success further manifested itself this year, as he was named to the All-ACC Third Team, and the Irish — despite a coaching change and an early-season losing spell — righted the ship and put together a solid season.
“I think with the schedule that we have, we always know that it’s going to be a tough season and there’s going to be some ups and downs,” McCabe said. “We arguably have the best schedule in the country, and playing in the ACC, there’s always going to be tough games and tough stretches in the season when you look at the whole season. … I think even though that was a trying period, we were able to look at it with a positive perspective that, ‘Hey, we’re in these games, we can play with anyone in the country,’ and then later in the season, these games will go our way and we’ll get those big wins that you need to have a good season.”
The Irish (11-7-3, 4-3-1 ACC) certainly did get the big wins they needed, including a 0-0 second round tournament win over Michigan decided by penalty kicks 11-10 in favor of the Irish. McCabe brought a much-needed veteran poise to the game once regulation ended.
“We watched Michigan and Princeton go to like 14 rounds of PKs that Thursday, and we’re all watching it amazed and shocked like, ‘There’s no way this can happen again,’ and sure enough it happens again,” McCabe said. “But being fifth [in the kicking order], you know at that point, it’s pretty much sudden death the way it laid out. So, you just want to be calm and take the PK the way I’ve always taken one, and we’ve done a lot of practice of it in the postseason. I wasn’t too worried — I knew where I was going to go, and then [I] just put it there and thankfully the goalie went the other way.”
Notre Dame went on to defeat Virginia in overtime in the round of 16 before falling to Indiana 1-0 in the quarterfinals. While the team fell short of its ultimate goal, McCabe said the season was a success.
“I think it was a special year,” McCabe said. “It was different than years in the past with the coaching change, and then we had a longer tournament run, and that’s always good to end the tournament in December. Obviously, we would’ve liked to go to the next weekend, but I think when you look back on the season, we were pleased with how it went, and the guys that are there want to build on that and the program wants to build on that for the years to come.”
McCabe was drafted with the 29th overall pick (second round) of the MLS Draft by FC Cincinnati, and he was loaned to North Carolina FC in February. With his Irish career over, McCabe is now fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing soccer professionally, an opportunity he doesn’t take for granted.
“Ever since I started playing soccer from an early age, I always dreamed of being a professional soccer player,” McCabe said. “And then later on, playing for youth national teams and then in college, it became more of a reality and more of a goal that I wanted to achieve. So finally achieving that by being drafted and then so far in my first season it’s been great. [It took] a lot of the hard work that I’ve put in and still put in to this day to achieve that, so I’m just grateful for what’s happened so far — the opportunities that Cincinnati and North Carolina FC have given me.”