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It would be a dream to match David Healy's winner against England, says Northern Ireland's Lauren Wade


Dreaming: Lauren Wade hopes to match David Healy’s feat

Dreaming: Lauren Wade hopes to match David Healy’s feat

Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Dreaming: Lauren Wade hopes to match David Healy’s feat

A huge smile breaks out across the face of Lauren Wade at the mention of a certain international match in September 2005.

It's getting towards 16 years since David Healy smashed the ball past Paul Robinson to give Northern Ireland a famous win over England at Windsor Park.

Lauren was one of 14,000 at Windsor Park who went wild as the ball hit the net, recalling: "I remember that game like it was yesterday."

Current circumstances dictate that no fans can be present when Northern Ireland Women face their English counterparts today (12.30pm), the reason for the match being played at England's training headquarters at St George's Park, and therefore it will be a much more low-key occasion than it might have been.

Victory for the girls in green would mean just as much, even if the friendly is part of the bigger picture as Kenny Shiels prepares his team for their Women's Euro 2022 play-off in April.

"I can still see David Healy's goal and it'd be a dream to score against England," said Lauren.

"Our focus has been on ourselves, but to have the men beat England and then the women too would be fantastic."

The confidence boost the Northern Ireland girls would take into the play-off if they can beat England would, undoubtedly, be huge.

If it was simply about winning to keep the feel-good factor high after a record-breaking four-match winning run took them to the play-offs, Shiels would have hand-picked the opposition for this week - and he wouldn't have picked England.

However, the opportunity to face a team that reached the semi-finals of the World Cup less than two years ago is one both the manager and the players are relishing. Mixed into that is the knowledge that had they not done what they have in the last 18 months then England would have been looking elsewhere for friendly opposition themselves.

"We want to be playing the best to challenge ourselves. It's a marker to see where we are," said Lauren.

"It may have been easy for the coaching staff to go for a team that we have a chance of winning against - that's not to say we don't have a chance of winning against England - but to be playing against players of the calibre that we'll be facing can only be a positive for us."

Going into the Lionesses' den against a squad that is made up from the top five teams in England's WSL might still seem like madness, but there is method in that for Shiels, particularly with that big play-off date in mind.

"If you play for one of the teams in our domestic league at home, which most of our girls do, they aren't used to playing opposition of this magnitude," he said.

"They are going to play quicker than what we are used to, they are stronger than what we are used to.

"They have everything - all the assets that it takes to be an athletic sportsperson. So why would that not be a really good experiment to visit that and try to contest against that?

"I think this is the ideal opponent if we work hard and improve in the measurement of how quick we can play and how accurate we can play, that's the whole purpose of it and the whole logic of it."

For Lauren, who is a free agent after leaving Glasgow City at Christmas, there is one eye on the present while the other is on the future for different reasons.

"Every game is an opportunity and, for myself as a free agent, something could come of this game. My focus is on a good performance for Northern Ireland and the rest can follow, but it definitely is a game that is there for me as a shop window," she said.

Belfast Telegraph