It's ridiculous to think the Irish FA could only arrange one warm-up game for the Northern Ireland women’s team ahead of next month’s European Championships when manager Kenny Shiels would have preferred more.
On the eve of that match in Belgium, it was interesting to note that Shiels said the finals are coming “too soon” for his team “in terms of being ready”.
Not exactly what you want to hear a fortnight out from the country’s opening match against Norway when history will be made. I wonder though if all is as it seems.
Shiels is known for wearing his heart on his sleeve and calling it how he sees it. That has got him in a bit of bother down the years but on this occasion could Kenny be playing mind games that may bear fruit when the Northern Ireland women play for the first time in a major tournament?
Is he under promising in order to over deliver when his side play the Norwegians, Austria and hosts England in Southampton in July?
Forget who will be on the right wing or left wing for one moment and think about The West Wing, a wonderful political drama set primarily around events in the Oval office at the White House with Martin Sheen playing President Josiah Bartlet.
When Bartlet’s canny Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, a much loved character portrayed superbly by the late John Spencer, was preparing for a Vice-Presidential debate he quietly got word out to the media that his debating skills were weak compared to his opponent and that he wasn’t ready for what was coming. McGarry excelled in the debate.
Perhaps Kenny will do the same having lulled the more favoured Norway, Austria and England into a false sense of security.
If he truly believes these finals have come too soon he’s likely referring to the difference in quality in the nations at this point in time but while Northern Ireland are of course underdogs, the players should 100 percent be ready for the biggest matches of their lives.
After all, they qualified for the finals in April 2021! That’s 14 months and counting that they have had to prepare for this.
If the girls aren’t ready now, questions would have to be asked about what’s been going on in the background, not just with Kenny and his coaching team who have been training the girls on a full-time basis this year, but also within the Irish FA.
In the weeks running up to the finals, England and other sides involved in the tournament arranged three friendly fixtures. Northern Ireland have to make do with just one against Belgium tonight.
Shiels had every right to say this week that it was a “missed opportunity” adding his players would “loved to have had the same as the other teams.”
Kenny’s job is to prepare the team tactically, technically, physically and mentally. I know he is a capable man but it’s not up to him to organise matches as well. That’s on the IFA.
It’s disappointing that the governing body failed to set up more fixtures for the team ahead of the biggest and most important period in the history of women’s football here when there are huge opportunities to grow the game.
I’ll say again it was known that Northern Ireland would be going to the 2022 Euro finals back in April 2021 so this has been no rush job. Surely the IFA could have arranged another game or two and even a big send-off at Windsor Park, as was the case for Michael O’Neill’s men heading towards Euro 2016.
Shiels and his stars have brought immense pride to Northern Ireland qualifying for the finals. The IFA should have been giving them every advantage and edge possible going into the tournament. That has not been the case.