There’s never a dull moment with the Northern Ireland women’s team ahead of their first ever European Championship this month. There’s always something going on.
In the past three months, manager Kenny Shiels has been forced to apologize for comments regarding women’s emotions, captain Marissa Callaghan has suffered an injury scare and Ciara Watling has complained about finding out that she had failed to make the final team via social media.
On the pitch, there is a similar lack of ideal preparation. Shiels wasn’t happy to have had just one warm-up game – a 4-1 loss to Belgium – and he wanted more. They got nothing and had some refusals from other associations, including Home Nations.
But for Northern Ireland, a fourth-seeded side that punches above its weight, this summer’s feat comes just short of the tournament. Just like with the men’s Euro 2016 squad, the players are determined to enjoy the experience.
There is plenty of excitement and reason to be positive even though Northern Ireland are huge underdogs. They have lost just two of their eight qualifying matches – they have those memories of draws against Wales and play-off wins against Ukraine – and that has made them grow as a team.
Meanwhile, in their warm-up game against Belgium, they competed for around 60 minutes, where it was a tight 1-1 and there wasn’t much between the teams. Then goalkeeper Jackie Burns is sent off in a friendly – and that’s the spell where he went from 1-1 to 4-1 in quick succession.
The score looked worse than it was. Manager Shiels was positive after the game about what they did during the spell before the red card and what he took away from the friendly.
Captain Callaghan looks good to start the tournament. It will take more than a toe injury to keep him out, having never experienced this with Northern Ireland before. The question is how much weight she can put on her tiptoe, but if she doesn’t make the first game against Norway, she will definitely make the second game against Austria.
And Northern Ireland feel they have been lucky with the fact that their three group games are in Southampton, which has led to a lot of talk about the Titanic and its history with Belfast (where it was built) and the south coast city (from where he sailed).
Behind Northern Ireland’s rise to Europe’s biggest stage is Shiels’ leadership. He is well-liked by the players, who give him a lot of credit and speak of the conviction he gave them to go ahead and improve as individuals and as a team.
The players’ admiration for the manager was on full display when Callaghan issued a statement following his comments that women are more likely to concede goals in certain circumstances as they are “more emotional” than men. They held a team meeting, they discussed it thoroughly. The result of this was to release the statement and unanimously support Shiels.
Ultimately, Shiels is a character, he’s an unpredictable person. Interviews and press conferences, you don’t know where they’re going.
That’s why he was so hurt when Watling tweeted that she found out she had missed out on the final squad via Northern Ireland’s announcement on social media on Monday. He feels he had a one-on-one meeting with her and both sides saying opposite things is just confusing and confusing. This episode overshadowed things this week.
But Northern Ireland are at a stage where they are excited, focused and eager to make their tournament debut. It’s going to have a huge impact and people can’t wait to see how they do.
IFA denies Watling claims of team snub
The Irish Football Association have denied Watling’s claims that she was not made aware of her failure to make the final squad for this summer’s European Championship until she saw a club tweet announcing the decision.
The Southampton midfielder, who would have played her group stage matches in the city where she plays her football club, tweeted this week: “Heartbreaking to not be selected for the Euros, honestly I don’t care. didn’t expect to find out I wasn’t via social media on Monday.
“Lucky to have incredible support and love around me. Good luck to all the girls, an exceptional group who will give their all.”
But the Irish FA released a statement saying manager Shiels had met with Watling and the other players who failed to make the Championships squad.
The FA statement ended with: “Kenny and his team would like to thank Ciara and all the players who did not make the final selection for their tremendous contribution to the team’s tournament preparations.
“They all have a bright future as part of the ongoing journey of the Northern Ireland women’s senior team.”
Follow Euro 2022 on Sky Sports
Catch up on all the latest Euro 2022 news on Sky Sports and Sky Sports News this summer.
Coverage will be anchored by Sky Sports WSL presenter Caroline Barker, alongside Jessica Creighton and Kyle Walker. Meanwhile, Karen Carney, Sue Smith, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Laura Bassett will provide analysis throughout the tournament.
They will also be joined by experienced England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Manchester City defender Esme Morgan.
Pundits and presenters will work from the Sky Sports Women’s Euro 2022 mobile presentation bus, which will follow the Sky Sports News team around the country to the various stadiums where the matches are taking place.
Additionally, Sky Sports’ Essential Football Podcast will be rebranded for the Sky Sports Women’s Euros Podcast Tournament from June 21. Hosted by Charlotte Marsh and Anton Toloui, it will feature exclusive news and player interviews in addition to a solid tournament programme.
Euro 2022: The groups…
Group A: England, Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland
Group B: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland
Group C: Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland
Group D: France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland
Euro 2022: The schedule for the group stage…
Wednesday July 6
Group A: England v Austria – Kick off 8pm, Old Trafford
Thursday July 7
Group A: Norway v Northern Ireland – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s
Friday July 8
Group B: Spain v Finland – Kick off 5.00pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Germany v Denmark – Kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Saturday July 9
Group C: Portugal vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village
Group C: Netherlands v Sweden – kick off 8pm, Bramall Lane
Sunday July 10
Group D: Belgium v Iceland – Kick off 5.00pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Group D: France vs Italy – kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium
Monday July 11
Group A: Austria v Northern Ireland – kick off 5pm, St Mary’s
Group A: England v Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
tuesday july 12
Group B: Denmark v Finland – Kick off 5.00pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Germany v Spain – Kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Wednesday July 13
Group C: Sweden v Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane
Group C: Netherlands-Portugal – kick-off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village
Thursday July 14
Group D: Italy v Iceland – Kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Group D: France vs Belgium – kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium
friday july 15
Group A: Northern Ireland v England – kick off 8pm St Mary’s
Group A: Austria v Norway – Kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
Saturday July 16
Group B: Finland v Germany – Kick-off 8pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Denmark v Spain – Kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Sunday July 17
Group C: Switzerland vs Netherlands – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane
Group C: Sweden v Portugal – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village
Monday July 18
Group D: Iceland vs France – kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium
Group D: Italy v Belgium – Kick off 8pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Check out the elimination schedule here.