Marissa and Northern Ireland Women aiming to shine in the Southampton sun

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 10th July 2022 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland’s Jackie Burns and Rachel Furness during Sunday’s training session at their training Complex in Southampton, before Monday’s nights Women’s Euros match against Austria at St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Kenny Archer

Euro 2022 Group A, round two: Austria v Northern Ireland (St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, 5pm)

WITH their flame-red hair, Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan and record scorer Rachel Furness are 'Orangewomen' of sorts. Whatever the outcome on this 'Eleventh Night' against Austria, the fire they've helped light will burn brightly for years to come.

That pair in particular might be wary of the scorching heat in this early evening kick-off but Callaghan said with a smile: "The sun is shining at a major finals and we just have to enjoy that moment."

Injury meant the Cliftonville star did not start against Norway on Thursday night, so Sarah McFadden wore the armband before Marissa came on for the second half.

Being at the head of the march onto the pitch will be special if she makes the XI for round two, she acknowledges:

"It would mean everything, but leading the team out in any game does. This is my role and it's one I've grown into. It's made me grow as a person and it would be amazing to lead us out at a major tournament.

"It means so much to hear young girls talking about us. When we were young there were no opportunities for young girls to play but we've flipped that in our wee country and there are opportunities everywhere.

"It's a big motivation for the girls to inspire young girls and to give them the dream we didn't have because it was impossible back then. We got investment from the Irish FA and we are very lucky to have a manager like Kenny [Shiels] here, too."

Defeat would end any slim hopes of reaching the quarter-finals, but Callaghan insisted the team weren't feeling pressure, rejecting a 'biggest game of your career' suggestion:

"We have had some incredible games in the last couple of years. We played England at Wembley, we had almost a sell-out against them at our own wee stadium and home.

"We can't put that pressure on ourselves as in 'It is a be-all and end-all game.'

"We almost have no right to be in this tournament. We are a little country and we have reached a major tournament - the top 16 teams in Europe.

"The big thing for us is to go out and perform. We want to show the world that we exist and we want to show our fans, the little girls and boys, that football is here and we can go and reach these milestones.

"For us it is about individually playing well and collectively for each other and making everyone proud."

Strike that match….