Former Northern Ireland international footballer Gerry Armstrong said he is “really proud” of Rachel Furness, after the midfielder became NI’s all-time top goalscorer on Monday night.
“To score that amount of goals for your country is sensational. It’s fantastic. I only scored 12 goals for my country!” said Armstrong, whose most renowned international goal came in Northern Ireland’s 1-0 win against host nation Spain during the 1982 World Cup.
“She’s done fantastically well and I think there’s a lot more goals to come. I’m really proud of her.”
Furness netted her 37th and 38th international goals at Seaview on Monday, contributing to the green and white army’s 9-0 win over North Macedonia, helping Kenny Shiels’ side move up to second in their World Cup qualifying group.
The 33-year-old’s first goal of the night saw her take the Northern Ireland Women’s record one ahead of the men’s one held by current Linfield manager and local legend, David Healy.
Gerry Armstrong, who previously coached women’s football in the US with fellow NI greats George Best and David McCreery, believes the best is yet to come for the girls’ game and for this Northern Ireland team.
“The women’s game has probably grown more in the last two years, but I knew it was going to grow 10 to 15 years ago,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“I coached over in America… and from a physical point of view they were so determined. The girls’ athleticism was brilliant.
“We knew that it was a sport that would really take, and it has taken now, Northern Ireland’s doing really well. Keep our fingers crossed, we can still qualify for this World Cup!”
Northern Ireland ladies have already qualified for their first-ever major tournament in the form of Euro 2022.
“To qualify for the Euros next summer is incredible,” Armstrong continued. “That’s a hell of an achievement, with 14 or 15 semi-professional amateur girls in the squad. That really is unheard of.
“The girls deserve the credit. They have proven that they can compete with the best and they’ve made everybody proud. During Covid, it has lifted everybody’s spirits and has done so much for the whole of Northern Ireland.”
Furness made her debut in the green jersey in 2005 and has gone on to win 81 caps for her nation.
“It’s fantastic. The most important thing for me was putting in a good performance and getting three points, and if I scored, fantastic,” said the Liverpool FC star on Monday night.
"I’ve managed to score two and it’s an amazing feeling. David Healy is a legend — to be the leading scorer in the women’s game is a fantastic feeling and I’m really proud. I know my team-mates are very proud too.”
Healy had even texted the new record-breaker after she equalled his 36 goal number in Skopje, and Furness joked she might have to send something his way as a form of apology for knocking him out of the history books.
“It was a special touch for David to text, I really appreciated it. He said it wasn’t easy to score for your country, and it’s not, we went through some tough times,” she added.
"Now we’re reaping the rewards for all the hard work we’ve put in through the years. Every goal I score for my country is special and hopefully there’s more to come.”
NI, which has a smaller population to North Macedonia by nearly 200,000 people, beat the latter by 11-0 in their first game against them in the Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
“If we can get a draw against Austria, it could go down to the goal difference, and we’ve just scored 20 goals against North Macedonia,” added Armstrong.
“Who ever heard of Northern Ireland beating anybody 9-0 or 11-0? North Macedonia is probably much bigger than us!”
Northern Ireland are now secured in the play-off spot in Group D for the World Cup qualifiers, two points below leaders England, albeit having played a game more.
Austria who also have a game in hand, are in third place currently but can regain the second spot when they travel to Luxembourg on Tuesday.