There’s never a dull moment with Northern Ireland women’s team ahead of their first ever European Championships this month. There’s always something going on.

In the past three months, manager Kenny Shiels has been forced to apologise for comments regarding women’s emotions, captain Marissa Callaghan has suffered an injury scare and Ciara Watling complained that she found out about her failing to make the final squad through social media.

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On the pitch, there’s a similar lack of ideal preparation. Shiels wasn’t happy that he only had one warm-up game – a 4-1 defeat against Belgium – and he wanted more. They didn’t secure anything and had a couple of rejections from other associations, including Home Nations.

But for Northern Ireland, a fourth seed team punching above their weight, the achievement this summer is just getting to the tournament. Just like with the men’s team in Euro 2016, the players are determined the enjoy the experience.

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Northern Ireland Women are the lowest-ranked team in this summer's tournament

There’s a lot of excitement and reasons to be positive even though Northern Ireland are massive underdogs. They only lost two out of their eight games in qualifying – they’ve got those memories of the draws against Wales and play-off wins over Ukraine – and it’s grown them as a team.

Meanwhile, in their warm-up game against Belgium, they competed for about 60 minutes, where it was tight at 1-1 and there wasn’t much between the teams. Then the goalkeeper Jackie Burns gets sent off in a friendly – and that’s the spell where it went from 1-1 to 4-1 in quick succession.

The scoreline looked worse than it was. Manager Shiels was positive after the game about what they did in the spell before the red card and what he got out of the friendly.

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Captain Callaghan seems fine to start the tournament. It will take a lot more than a toe injury to keep her out having not experienced this with Northern Ireland before. The issue is how much weight she can put on the toe, but if she doesn’t make the first game against Norway, she will certainly make the second game against Austria.

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Marissa Callaghan will captain Northern Ireland at the Women's Euros

And Northern Ireland feel they have lucked out with the fact that all three of their group games are in Southampton – leading to a lot of chat regarding the Titanic and its history with both Belfast (where it was built) and the south coast city (from where it sailed).

Behind Northern Ireland’s rise to the biggest stage in Europe is the leadership of Shiels. He’s really well liked by the players, who credit him an awful lot and talk about the the belief he has given them to kick on and improve themselves as individuals and as a team.

The players’ admiration for the manager was evidenced when Callaghan put out a statement off the back of his comments about women being more likely to concede goals in certain circumstances as they are “more emotional” than men. They held a team meeting, they discussed it thoroughly. The outcome of that was to come out with the statement and unanimously back Shiels.

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Northern Ireland and Everton’s Simone Magill says one of the main reasons they were able to qualify for this summer’s Euros was the belief manager Kenny Shiels installed in his squad.

Ultimately, Shiels a character, he’s somebody who is unpredictable. The interviews and press conferences, you don’t know where they’re going to go.

It’s why he was so hurt when Watling tweeted that she found out about her missing the final squad via Northern Ireland’s social media announcement on Monday. He feels he had a one-on-one meeting with her and for both parties to say opposite things is just baffling and puzzling. This episode has overshadowed matters this week.

But Northern Ireland are at the stage where they’re excited, focused and looking forward to their debut in this tournament. It’s going to have a massive impact and people are looking forward to seeing how they get on.

IFA deny Watling claims over squad snub

Image:
Northern Ireland international Ciara Watling (left)

The Irish Football Association denied Watling’s claims that she was not informed over her failing to make the final squad for this summer’s European Championship until she saw a club tweet announcing the decision.

The Southampton midfielder, who would have played her group stage matches in the city where she plays her club football, tweeted this week: “Heartbreaking not to be selected for the Euro’s, I honestly didn’t expect to find out I wasn’t via social media on Monday.

“Lucky to have amazing support and love around me.Good luck to all the girls, an outstanding group who will give all they’ve got.”

But the Irish FA released a statement announcing that manager Shiels had a meeting with Watling and the other players who failed to make the cut for the Championships squad.

The FA statement ended with: “Kenny and his staff thank Ciara and all those players who didn’t make the final selection for their considerable contribution to the squad’s tournament preparations.

“They all have bright futures as part of the Northern Ireland senior women’s team’s continuing journey.”

Euro 2022: The groups…

Group A: England, Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland

Group B: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland

Group C: Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland

Group D: France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland

Euro 2022: The group-stage schedule…

Group stage

Wednesday July 6

Group A: England vs Austria – kick off 8pm, Old Trafford

Thursday July 7

Group A: Norway vs Northern Ireland – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s

Friday July 8

Group B: Spain vs Finland – kick off 5pm, Stadium MK

Group B: Germany vs Denmark – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Saturday July 9

Group C: Portugal vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village

Group C: Netherlands vs Sweden – kick off 8pm, Bramall Lane

Sunday July 10

Group D: Belgium vs Iceland – kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium

Group D: France vs Italy – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium

Monday July 11

Group A: Austria vs Northern Ireland – kick off 5pm, St Mary’s

Group A: England v Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium

Tuesday July 12

Group B: Denmark vs Finland – kick off 5pm, Stadium MK

Group B: Germany vs Spain – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Wednesday July 13

Group C: Sweden vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane

Group C: Netherlands v Portugal – kick off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village

Thursday July 14

Group D: Italy vs Iceland – kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium

Group D: France vs Belgium – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium

Friday July 15

Group A: Northern Ireland v England – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s

Group A: Austria vs Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium

Saturday July 16

Group B: Finland vs Germany – kick off 8pm, Stadium MK

Group B: Denmark vs Spain – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Sunday July 17

Group C: Switzerland vs Netherlands – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane

Group C: Sweden vs Portugal – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village

Monday July 18

Group D: Iceland vs France – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium

Group D: Italy vs Belgium – kick off 8pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium

View the knock-out timetable here.

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