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England test will be the ideal warm-up for us ahead of European play-off, insists midfielder Callaghan



Raring to go: Marissa Callaghan cannot wait for some of the biggest games in Northern Ireland’s history

Raring to go: Marissa Callaghan cannot wait for some of the biggest games in Northern Ireland’s history

Raring to go: Marissa Callaghan cannot wait for some of the biggest games in Northern Ireland’s history

Marissa Callaghan has dared to dream before.

After having her wish come true when Northern Ireland qualified for the Women's Euro 2022 play-offs, the captain is dreaming some more.

Kenny Shiels' team go to England next week for a high-profile friendly against a side that reached the World Cup semi-finals less than two years ago, and the ultimate dream for Callaghan and her international team-mates is to go back there next summer as one of the 16 teams competing in the European Championships.

With a focus on the present, eyes are firmly fixed on the future too and the knock-on effect that a history-making Northern Ireland Women's team playing in a major finals for the first time can have in taking the game to a level that just a few years ago could only be dreamed of.

"It is the play-off that is the holy grail and it's the one that we want to do well in, this game against England is a stepping stone on the way to that," said Callaghan.

"We are working hard together, but we're having fun doing it and we look forward to the games. We play for these moments and what a massive moment to play against England in a friendly before a play-off.

"I know we've already made history, but imagine we qualified for the Euros; that would really boost the game here.

"We want to create role models and we want to inspire young girls to be a Northern Ireland player and want to wear the green shirt and be proud to do it.

"It's about getting more girls into the game and inspiring the nation really the way the men did a few years ago when they qualified for the Euros and reached the last-16."

Victory against England would go a long way to inspiring the current generation ahead of that play-off clash, the draw for which will be made on March 5, in the same way that the men did when David Healy's goal brought down Sven-Goran Eriksson's team in 2005.

Shiels has a slight fear that a bit of reverse psychology might work against his team and a positive result at St George's Park on Tuesday afternoon may also inspire whoever Northern Ireland will face in the play-off.

"If we do fantastically well and say we draw Switzerland in the play-offs, they will be right up for it because they will think, 'Look at how they did against England'," said Shiels.

"Sometimes that can go against you. I know when we lost 6-0 to Norway it was better than losing 2-0 because our next game was Wales and they took their eye off the ball because we had been beaten 6-0 by Norway

"When we went to play Wales they were expecting an easy game and I think they stepped off the gas a bit.

"If we had defended against Norway and lost maybe 2-0 or 3-1 they would have thought they were in for a really tough game.

"That's me just thinking the way footballers think.

"That's why the result against England isn't paramount. It is for the country and for everyone who has pride in their country, we want to be beating big teams like England, but sometimes it isn't the most important thing."

Given the choice, the players would most likely happily run the risk of sending a wake-up call if it means they have beaten England. Readiness for the biggest game in their careers is, however, what facing the English superstars is all about.

Callaghan added: "The ultimate goal is to get us prepared for the play-offs. We could be up against a top team like Switzerland and what better preparation is there than playing a team like England?

"It's about getting us ready for those two games in April."

Belfast Telegraph