Euro 2022: Northern Ireland will not catch up with numbers, says captain Marissa Callaghan
Northern Ireland will put pressure on themselves to perform at Euro 2022, and will not go “just to catch up with the numbers,” captain Marissa Callaghan said.
Talk on The players podcast, Callaghan and record cap holder Julie Nelson recount NI’s journey, from reforming in 2004 to qualifying for its first major championships.
The team beat Ukraine over two sets in a memorable play-off victory, and will be the lowest-ranked team in next year’s final in England.
“We just want to compete,” said Callaghan, who scored the first goal of their victory in the return leg in Belfast.
“Yes, we have achieved this amazing thing, but the first thing we have to do is prepare for the competition.
“We just don’t want to make up numbers and it will be a hell of a challenge – we are going to face the best players in the world.”
Before next summer, Northern Ireland will begin their 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign, which will include two games against England after being reunited in Group D of the European section.
The teams met in a friendly in February with England running out of 6-0 winners, an experience which Callaghan says will keep his side in good stead as they enter a historic year.
“Some of us are going to be star struck to be honest,” she said.
“We’re mainly a part-time team, we play in the Irish League and we watch the WSL and there is incredible talent in this league.
“We have to make sure that we handle this. We are going to compete. We have a big challenge ahead of us in the year to come.”
Ukraine’s victory in planning
Northern Ireland’s 4-1 win over Ukraine in April was sealed in north Belfast, but the foundations were laid in the 2-1 away win four days earlier.
With manager Kenny Shiels at the helm since 2019, Callaghan and Nelson said the squad have benefited from a new level of detail in the lineup that has paid off in the play-offs.
“Every goal that we scored, we had been on the training ground,” said Callaghan.
“When Ukraine played the ball from behind our midfielders were pressing high and when the Ukrainian midfielder sent it back to the center half Rachel Furness came in and scored. [the first goal of the tie].
“We had experienced this in training and it was planned to happen. Even the second goal Simone Magill scored, we knew their goalkeeper couldn’t hit it for long, so our midfielder was ready for the kick- outs. “
Northern Ireland also had to deal with a significant injury list, which increased in the first leg as the influential Furness suffered a broken leg after giving his team an early lead in the tie.
“The importance of that – Rachel Furness has scored in most of our qualifying, she’s a really important player for us on and off the pitch, she’s a real leader in terms of the way she plays,” said Callaghan .
“It was a huge thing that she was getting off the pitch, but it just showed the resilience and solidarity that we have as a team.
“We were a bit unstable for the last 15 minutes of the first half but at half time the coaches focused us again and we had to change some things and lucky enough it worked.”