Euros Preview: Northern Ireland

by Abi Ticehurst (5/7/22).

Above: Northern Ireland celebrate qualifying for the Euros. Photo: CNN.

Northern Ireland are set to make their debut in the Euros this summer, they are ranked 47th and nicknamed The Green and White Army (#GAWA). Their squad was unveiled on 27th June on Twitter with the hashtag #ANewDream and an impressive reveal video to boot with ‘Now you can see us, you can be us’ and ‘Watch Us Rise’ scrawled across the screen in accents of green whilst Saoirse-Monica Jackson of Derry Girls voiced the narration alongside the incredibly catchy ‘Girl got Game’ by Jessica Hammond blasting in the background. The song has been released as the official song of Northern Ireland for the tournament.

The Squad:

Typically, the squad sets up in a 3-5-1-1 formation. Despite missing recent friendlies through injury, both Marissa Callaghan and Rebecca McKenna make the squad. Ashley Hutton makes the squad having proven her fitness after returning from a long-term knee injury. Shannon Turner of Wolverhampton Wanderers has put on an impressive display between the sticks for the third-tier FA National League Northern Premier side this season so takes the final keeper spot of the squad. The tournament will be one in which she looks to take her first senior cap for Northern Ireland.

Five of the squad come from English teams including top goalscorer Rachel Furness from Championship title-winning Liverpool. And we can’t announce the squad without a huge congratulations to Becky Flaherty of Impetus-sponsored Brighouse Town.

Thirteen of the selected squad currently play within the Women’s Premiership in Northern Ireland having taken up Euros preparation in January this year. Marissa Callaghan of Cliftonville has been named tournament captain.

Goalkeepers: Jackie Burns (no club), Becky Flaherty (Brighouse Town), Shannon Turner (Wolverhampton Wanderers).

Defenders: Julie Nelson (Crusaders Strikers), Ashley Hutton (Linfield), Sarah McFadden (Durham), Demi Vance (Rangers), Kelsie Burrows (Cliftonville), Abbie Magee (Cliftonville), Rebecca McKenna (Lewes), Laura Rafferty (Southampton).

Midfielders: Marissa Callaghan (Cliftonville), Rachel Furness (Liverpool), Rebecca Holloway (Racing Louisville), Chloe McCarron (Glentoran), Nadene Caldwell (Glentoran), Joely Andrews (Glentoran) Louise McDaniel (Cliftonville).

Forwards: Simone Magill (no club), Lauren Wade (Glentoran), Kirsty McGuinness (Cliftonville), Caitlin McGuinness (Cliftonville), Emily Wilson (Crusaders Strikers).

The Head Coach:

Above: Northern Ireland head coach Kenny Shiels. Photo: Derry Now.

Kenny Shiels is Northern Ireland born and bred. His playing career was spent in the Irish Football League at a decuplet of teams including Tobermore United, Larne, and Ballymena United during the eighties and early nineties. He retired from playing in 1994 after a two-year term at Carrick Rangers.

Shiels has had a multifarious stint in management with this year his 20th anniversary in charge of a club. He managed many of the clubs he played for during the early 2000’s, where he won eight cup finals, before venturing across the Irish Sea to join Tranmere Rovers as Head of Youth Development having previously headed up the Northern Ireland U-17 squad.

He then moved to Scottish Premier League side Kilmarnock initially as an assistant to Mixu Paatelainen before he took over from the Finnish manager. Shiels then took over Killie and won the Scottish League Cup before being sacked. He stayed in Scottish football however, and was appointed manager of Greenock Morton. He left Scottish football for pastures new and joined Thai club BEC Tero Sasana for half a season before returning home to Northern Ireland. He spent three years managing Derry City men’s side before being appointed the manager of the Northern Ireland women’s national team in May of 2019.

Euros History:

This is the first time the Northern Irish women’s national team has qualified for a major tournament. It was announced in September of 2021 that the squad would become full professional ahead of the Euros. Prior to this, the Northern Ireland team consistently flitted between ‘did not qualify’ and ‘did not enter’ before their successful bid for this year’s competition.

Above: Northern Ireland legend Rachel Furness. Photo: Belfast Telegraph.

Qualifying:

Northern Ireland found themselves in Group C alongside Norway, Wales, Belarus, and the Faroe Islands during qualification. They kicked off their campaign way back in August 2019 when they were on the wrong end of a 6-0 drubbing by Norway. They then played fellow home nations side Wales in a scintillating affair that saw Northern Ireland snatch an equaliser point in the 94th minute to make it 2-2. A case of deja vu when they visited Norway as the home side smashed yet another six goals past them once more and they then drew with Wales for a second time, the outing saw neither side able to net and the game ended 0-0.

Northern Ireland’s first big victory came when they took on the Faroe Islands in Tórsvollur with six goals by four-goal scorers including braces from Simone Magill and Lauren Wade. They faced their final group opponent, Belarus, for the first time in October of the same year and secured a narrow victory when stalwart Rachel Furness scored just before the halftime whistle, the final score perhaps a reflection on the fact Northern Ireland were down to ten players after Jacqueline Burns was sent off with less than half an hour played.

The reverse fixture was played a month later and goals galore as the sides played cat and mouse in front of goal and Northern Ireland eventual victors after a Belarus error saw an own goal to put them 3-2 up. The final game of the group saw Northern Ireland play host to the Faroe Islands in Belfast and yet another convincing victory. Their results meant they finished joint runners-up with Wales on 14 points, but two away goals ran in the Green & White Army’s favour and they made the play-offs.

They were drawn against Ukraine and played the first leg in April 2021 with none other than Furness opening the scoring for Northern Ireland just five minutes in, Ukraine equalised just after the 20th minute and it looked as though this was how the match might end after Furness was forced off through injury but Simone Magill was there to pull rank and struck at the 57th minute to win the game.

Northern Ireland had put themselves in a good position ahead of the second leg five days later. A tricky home tie for Northern Ireland and the game was quiet in the first half but Marissa Callaghan was intent on getting in on the mix and netted for the side early on in the second half. Northern Ireland held on to their 1-0 lead for the rest of the game before Natiya Pantsulaya was shown a straight red card for a foul on McFadden before Nadene Caldwell netted deep into injury time to all bit confirm Northern Ireland’s spot in the final 16 as they won their playoff place 4-1 on aggregate.

Above: Northern Ireland celebrate after qualifying for the Euros. Photo: UEFA.

Strengths:

Their defense is stacked with experience with the likes of Julie Nelson, Ashley Hutton, Demi Vance, and Sarah McFadden all plying their trade with the national side for a number of years. Adversity, in what is certain to be a challenging competition for the Green and White Army, is an absolute must and with three of the four defenders having all recovered from cruciate injuries in their careers, they’ll have bags of it. Whilst experience is a key component so too is youth amongst a squad and Northern Ireland certainly has that in Louise McDaniel, Caitlin McGuiness, Emily Wilson, and Abbie Magee.

Development Areas:

Their vulnerability lies in the fact so many of the squad play in the Women’s Premiership in Northern Ireland. The league remains an amateur division and as mentioned above, a number of them took up professional preparation from January this year. Many of the squad are well accustomed to domestic success but it’s very much dependent upon whether or not this can translate to international cohesion.

Key Player:

Rachel Furness, Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer with 38 goals in 84 appearances to her name is pivotal to the continued riches of the squad. She made her debut aged 17 in 2005. Her success is made considerably more incredible given she experienced an almost career-ending knee injury which meant she had to take a break from playing for almost two seasons.

One To Watch:

Emily Wilson, she’s just 19 but is no stranger to a European Championship having played in the U19’s Finals back in 2017. Wilson already has 30 caps to her name playing a crucial role in the qualifying stages. She’s notorious for chipping a keeper so keep your eyes peeled for her taking her chances. Northern Ireland will also likely look to use Wilson’s pace to their advantage as that player heavy midfield loops crosses into the box for her teammates to chase down.

Above: Emily Wilson celebrates scoring for Northern Ireland. Photo: Belfast Telegraph.

Prediction:

With this being their debut appearance in the tournament, there’s no pressure. They’ve got a tricky group with England and Norway to compete with and Austria are not to be sniffed at either.  Therefore, making it out of the group will be an outstanding achievement.

Group Fixtures:

7th July: Norway, 8pm, St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton.

11th July: Austria, 5pm, St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton.

15th July: England, 8pm, St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton.

Bonus fact: Simone Magill holds the record for the fastest international goal in women’s football after scoring in the 11th second against Georgia during a 2016 European qualifier. It’s also the fastest ever international goal by any national Northern Ireland player – both male or female.

Impetus is previewing a different nation every day between now and the start of the European Championships. Click below to read the previously published articles:

FRANCE – by Jean-Pierre Thiesset: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/06/25/euros-preview-france/

AUSTRIA – by Jorge Ceron: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/06/26/euros-preview-austria/

GERMANY – by Johnathan Stack: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/06/27/euros-preview-germany/

ICELAND – by Kris Goman: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/06/28/euros-preview-iceland/

SPAIN – by Nathan Edwards: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/06/29/euros-preview-spain/

FINLAND – by Jean-Pierre Thiesset: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/06/30/euros-preview-finland/

NETHERLANDS – by Kris Goman: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/07/01/euros-preview-netherlands/

SWITZERLAND – by Ellie Ramsauer: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/07/02/euros-preview-switzerland/

BELGIUM – by Jean-Pierre Thiesset: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/07/03/euros-preview-belgium/

SWEDEN – by Ellie Ramsauer: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/07/04/euros-preview-sweden/

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