Northern Ireland will have three footballers at the London 2012 Olympic Games — despite the Irish FA’s opposition to a Great Britain team taking part.
Northern Ireland women’s captain Ashley Hutton, goalkeeper Emma Higgins and Sarah McFadden, who plays her club football with Sunderland, will all be part of a history-making team, as GB has never been represented in women’s football at the Olympics before.
The trio have been told they will receive call-ups when the squad is named within the next few weeks.
Unlike the men’s competition there is no age restriction in the women’s football tournament at the Olympics, so Higgins, Hutton and McFadden have beaten off some stiff competition to be selected by manager Hope Powell.
And with GB facing Brazil at Wembley in their final group game — and the final also set for the famous venue — it is a fantastic opportunity for the Northern Ireland trio.
The English FA, who are responsible for the Great Britain Olympic football teams, sent a scout to the Cyprus Cup in February, where the three Northern Ireland girls impressed.
An Olympic scout was also present at Northern Ireland’s European Championship qualifier against Hungary back in April, when Hutton|(pictured) was particularly impressive before she conceded a last minute penalty.
Higgins and Hutton became the first Northern Ireland women to win 50 caps during that Cyprus Cup competition, while McFadden is closing in on the half century mark.
The IFA, like their Scottish and Welsh counterparts, have been strongly against joining with England to form a GB team for the Olympics with fears that Fifa may demand that the four associations combine for future World Cup and European Championships.
The three girls, however, will go with at least something that resembles a blessing from their association.
IFA president Jim Shaw said previously: “Our view hasn’t changed and while we are opposed to the GB team in principle, we understand that it’s a personal decision the players have to make.”
Meanwhile, Wales striker Craig Bellamy revealed that he has been invited to play in the men’s tournament by manager Stuart Pearce — although he was supposed to keep that a secret. With David Beckham also expected to be selected that leaves only one place left for a overage player.
Northern Ireland winger Chris Brunt is understood to be under consideration by Pearce, while captain Steve Davis is also believed to have been on the ‘long list’ of candidates Pearce selected at the start of the year.
Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs has also expressed an interest in playing in the Olympics.