Football/Soccer

Baby Quinn, partner Paula and holy statue were Marissa Callaghan's driving forces

Baby Quinn touches the television screen during her mother's historic night with Northern Ireland

MARISSA Callaghan sipped on her Coors Light beer after helping Northern Ireland reach Euro 2022 – their first-ever qualification for a major tournament – and tried to take it all in.

The Northern Ireland captain thought of the conversation she had with former boss Alfie Wylie 11 years ago that made all the difference.

She thought of her granny who told her mother: ‘Marissa is going to be on stage one day’.

She thought of the little 'Hail Mary statue' that was handed down through the generations and became a lucky charm and will now carry her to the big stage in England next summer.

She thought of little Baby Quinn, 17 months old, touching the television screen at home and her partner Paula – “the rock” – and the tears flowed.

West Belfast native Marissa Callaghan celebrates her goal and Northern Ireland's first of the night in their successful Euro 2022 qualification bid against Ukraine

In fact, they were already flowing before the Northern Ireland girls left the Seaview pitch on Tuesday night having scored an incredible 4-1 aggregate victory over their play-off rivals.

“You obviously can’t help but think of your family when things like this happen to you,” said the 35-year-old Cliftonville legend, whose goal came in the early throes of the second half on that effectively broke Ukrainian resistance.

“It was as if I was prepared for that game and I went into it believing I was going to score. I actually put a bit of tape around my wrist with my son’s name on it and I kissed it when it happened.”

Parenthood has been a life-changer for the same-sex couple.

“It’s amazing," Marissa says. "Quinn is such a cool kid, he’s a wee smiler, he loves outdoors and is a great sleeper. Obviously it’s not as easy for same-sex couples if you want to have a baby, so we had a bit of a journey of a few years before he came along and we’re relishing it and taking in every moment with him.

“My partner has been incredible,” she adds. “I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s been the rock.”

Marissa with partner Paula and baby Quinn

And it was her partner’s encouragement a decade ago after Alfie Wylie gave her the chance at senior international level.

“Reaching the Euros is the pinnacle,” she says. “If you had asked us two years ago would we ever be in this situation I genuinely would have laughed at you. Our dreams have come true. Before this campaign we might have won two competitive games in our whole history.

“I remember I had a conversation with Alfie back in 2010 as the World Cup Qualifiers were coming up and he invited me to train on the Sunday. He set me down and said: ‘Marissa, I’m giving you this opportunity. I want you to come along to training and if you don’t take it now you’ll probably never get the opportunity again.’

“I spoke to my partner Paula and she said that you don’t want to regret this when you’re older and look back, thinking: ‘Why didn’t I try?’

“On the Sunday I went to training and thank God I did. It was the best thing I ever did.”

Eleven years later, the west Belfast native reached the summit.

As the players bathe in the after-glow of Tuesday night's historic win, Kenny Shiels will be eagerly awaiting October's final draw with the bullet-proof belief that anything in life and in football is possible.

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Football/Soccer