Football/Soccer

Chloe McCarron confident she and Northern Ireland Women can show their quality

Chloe McCarron (second from right) and her Northern Ireland tesam-mates celebrate reaching the Euro 2022 play-off after beating the Faroe Islands in December 2020.
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker 
Kenny Archer

EVERY footballer loses, that's part of the game. Losing confidence can be tougher to take, but it's no surprise that Chloe McCarron has bounced back from her low point.

Softly-spoken she may be, but the 24-year-old is also a fierce competitor. So to barely play for Birmingham City in the English Women's Super League was a blow, she acknowledges

An all-round midfielder, the Coleraine woman signed for those Blues from the Belfast version, Linfield Ladies, in the summer of 2020, having worked her way up from East End Boys, Ballymena Allstars, and Mid-Ulster Ladies.

She'd helped Linfield win the Women's Premiership before she left, and when she returned to Northern Ireland last year she inspired Glentoran to retain that title after Titanic battle with Cliftonville.

In England, though, she admits she struggled. "The set-up at the Glens is very good. When I came back from Birmingham, I had a loss in confidence, basically.

"I went from a high at Linfield and obviously didn't get playing at Birmingham. No fault of my own, it's just the set-up of it.

"When I came back to the Glens the set-up was amazing and I got my confidence back, got back starting again here [with NI]. That was really what I needed to do, to get back and in the team again.

"The Glens, we proved that last season, we won absolutely everything, and we've done it in a good way. When I signed mid-season, we weren't favoured to win the league whatsoever, we couldn't drop a point, and we showed with the great squad that we have and the coaches, we were good enough to win the league."

Getting into a Northern Ireland midfield which is likely to include captain Marissa Callaghan and top scorer Rachel Furness will be a tough task, especially if manager Kenny Shiels deploys a three centre backs system.

However, McCarron relishes the challenge: "To be honest, I back myself. There is competition, and obviously the same team isn't gonna play every single match. The oppositions are different and it's gonna require different players.

"I hope I can I get on the pitch, but I back myself. Anybody else that's in here, they're all here for a reason, they're all good players."

Even so, Northern Ireland will be underdogs in all three games, massively so against Norway and hosts England, and still expected to lose to Austria.

Yet McCarron insists they won't be satisfied with just 'being there' at these Euros:

"On paper, we technically shouldn't be there. The rest are within the top 20 in Europe, we're not. So I think that's a credit to us, we've worked to get in this position, and nobody can take it away from us now because we're here.

"We need to enjoy it but we can't just let this be the only time we've qualified, we need to build on it. Like we can't really be satisfied 'Oh, we've qualified for one. That's it.'

"We want to continue and that will just show how good the squad is, if we can do it again."

All three opponents are familiar foes, with Norway having been in the Euros qualifying group while Austria and England are in the World Cup qualifying section.

McCarrons sees pros and cons to that scenario: "To be honest, I would have preferred someone different in the group, but in terms of the perspective that we have played them recently, within the last year-and-a-half, we have the footage to look back on, to analyse, so there's probably more to our advantage by playing these teams."

The girls in green almost beat Austria at Seaview last year, conceding late on in a 2-2 draw, but played poorly for the first hour of the return fixture in April, losing 3-1.

McCarron feels the 'win or bust' nature of that meeting in Wiener Neustadt adversely affected NI: "I think there was a lot of pressure on that match, we needed to win. Obviously it didn't go our way. But we showed in the second half, regardless of the first half and how it went, we did play great football.

"I think inside our heads was 'We need to build off this because we're playing them in the finals'. So regardless of the loss, we have to build on it and just forget about it."

The following display, at home to England, was much better, even if the visitors to Windsor Park still won 5-0:

"Yes. So we played England three times in the last maybe two years and I think from the first game to the last game we played, you can see that we've closed the gap massively in terms of our performances.

"I don't think the scores in the last two games that we played them have reflected how we played. At Wembley, we held them for like 60 to 65 minutes, that was just game conditioning that maybe let us down.

"Obviously we've worked on that massively with being in full time [training camp], like the whole group have been in full time, not just the select few, so I think that will be a good advantage to us."

McCarron scored a long range cracker to open her senior international account in December 2020 against the Faroe Islands, helping seal the Euros play-off place against Ukraine.

The wait since those two matches in April of last year "does seem forever," she acknowledge, but she and her colleagues are raring to go now:

"To be honest, I think we've been quite occupied because we've obviously had the first part of our season, and we've been in full time and stuff.

"We have been occupied with fixtures in between, with the World Cup qualifiers, we were in Marbella at a training camp in February, we had obviously the matches in April, including against England here.

"So you know, we have kept ourselves occupied. But now the next games are the finals, so we need to switch onto that."

With her self-belief renewed, Chloe McCarron is definitely ready to show what she can do on her return to English soil.