Northern Ireland news

Historic win for NI women's football team will 'inspire future generations'

The Northern Ireland women's senior team qualified after a win against Ukraine at Seaview on Tuesday night. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

TRAILBLAZERS for young women, the Northern Ireland female football team has been basking in the glory of an historic win that will "inspire future generations".

Hailed as "another pivotal moment in the development of women's sport", there was a flood of tributes yesterday for the senior team after they secured a place in the finals of a major tournament for the first time.

Captain Marissa Callaghan and Nadene Caldwell both scored against Ukraine on Tuesday night at Seaview in north Belfast to seal their side's place at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 in England.

Amid celebrations across the north, the cross-community nature of the team was highlighted by the goalscorers who are regular faces in the Cliftonville and Glentoran women's squads.

Manager Kenny Shiels and his side now look forward to rubbing shoulders with some of the best female players in the world as they take their place among Europe's top 16 teams.

They will be the only debutants at the tournament.

PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 13/04/2021.Northern Ireland v Ukraine Womenâ??s Euro 2022 play-off.Northern Ireland celebrate after qualifying for the Euroâ??s after this eveningâ??s game at Seaview in Belfast..Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker ...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

All the other nations have squads packed with professionals, while Northern Ireland has just a handful of full-time players in their panel, which is mostly made up of home-based amateurs who play in the NIFL Danske Bank Women’s Premiership.

Among those is Ms Callaghan, the Belfast-born footballer who began playing with Newington Girls aged 13.

The club, now known as Cliftonville Ladies, last night said she was the "driving force" behind their team.

"A trailblazer for women's football, an inspiration to young girls everywhere," the club said.

"The most capped player in Cliftonville history and now she'll don the captain's armband at Euro 2022. The legend that is Marissa Callaghan."

The players have also told of their joy in securing their place in the tournament.

Coleraine-born Chloe McCarron, who also plays for Birmingham City Women, tweeted: "No words to describe how I am feeling with qualifying for the Euro finals with this team.

"I went from a young girl watching some of these players, to pulling the green jersey on along side them to create history. We dared to dream and just look."

Simone Magill, who is from Magherafelt and plays for Everton, also wrote that "little Norn Iron showed the world what we can do".

Sunderland-born Rachel Furness, who plays for Liverpool, said: "I won't ever forget this moment for the rest of my life.

"That’s for every little girl who’s ever had a dream. Never give up on your dreams."

Former Northern Ireland international Aaron Hughes said it was an "historic night for women’s football in Northern Ireland, and a tremendous achievement that will no doubt inspire future generations".

First and deputy First Ministers Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill also described the players as "history-makers as an inspiration for women and girls".

"This is a team that dared to dream big and through hard work, determination and amazing talent, have made all those dreams come true," said Mrs Foster.

"Their victory has given us all a much-needed lift to our spirits and they are an inspiration to all of our young people as they show what can be achieved when you aim high."

Ms O’Neill added: "These footballers are role models for girls and young women everywhere, and their success shows that it is possible to smash your goals and realise your dreams.

"This is a phenomenal achievement for women’s football and for local sport and I hope everyone gets behind them as they continue this remarkable journey."

Communities minister Deirdre Hargey said the team's "commitment, bravery and will-to-win" had been evident throughout their campaign.

"Their achievement is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the team is made up of players who for the most part play for local clubs, and the personal commitment and sacrifices that they have made to achieve such success cannot be underestimated," she said.

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