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Northern Ireland jet off to Women’s Euros 2022: ‘We want to give our country something to be proud of’

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Northern Ireland team pictured at the George Best City Airport, Belfast, before departing to compete in the UEFA Women’s Euros Finals in England (Credit: William Cherry/Presseye)

Northern Ireland team pictured at the George Best City Airport, Belfast, before departing to compete in the UEFA Women’s Euros Finals in England (Credit: William Cherry/Presseye)

William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland striker Simone Magill ahead of her flight to the Women's Euros Finals in Southampton 2022 (Credit: Belfast Telegraph)

Northern Ireland striker Simone Magill ahead of her flight to the Women's Euros Finals in Southampton 2022 (Credit: Belfast Telegraph)

Northern Ireland team pictured at the George Best City Airport, Belfast (Credit: William Cherry/Presseye)

Northern Ireland team pictured at the George Best City Airport, Belfast (Credit: William Cherry/Presseye)

William Cherry/Presseye

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Northern Ireland team pictured at the George Best City Airport, Belfast, before departing to compete in the UEFA Women’s Euros Finals in England (Credit: William Cherry/Presseye)

As the Northern Ireland women’s team got ready to hop on a plane to Southampton for the Euro 2022 finals, the mantra was the same for all involved — “the next game is the most important”.

The history-making ladies arrived at George Best Belfast City Airport in matching suits and kit bags this afternoon, ready and raring to go for the tournament’s group stages, in which they will face Norway, Austria and England.

Their first match will be against a formidable Norwegian side on Thursday evening, a country that has reached nine semi-finals of the Women’s Euros since 1985, including six finals — two of which they won, in ‘87 and ‘93.

“Norway are big biscuits and we’ll do our best to compete with them first and we’ll see where that takes us,” NI manager Kenny Shiels said ahead of his squad’s flight to England.

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Northern Ireland team pictured at the George Best City Airport, Belfast (Credit: William Cherry/Presseye)

Northern Ireland team pictured at the George Best City Airport, Belfast (Credit: William Cherry/Presseye)

William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland team pictured at the George Best City Airport, Belfast (Credit: William Cherry/Presseye)

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There has been no time to think about revenge against this year’s hosts, who beat Northern Ireland 5-0 in April, in a sold-out Windsor Park World Cup qualifier.

“Your next game is your most important game. You can’t say, ‘oh I can’t wait for the England game’. The next game is the most important game in your life,” Shiels continued.

“I keep telling that to the girls, because someday it will be your last game. All of our focus is on Norway and the preparation is all on Norway. We want to give our country something to be proud of, we’ve got to try and achieve that.”

The Magherafelt native added that since taking hold of the team’s reins with his coaching staff in 2019, their sole focus has always been on “endeavouring to do the best we can the whole way through”.

He talked about helping his players improve and handle the emotions of big competition, adding that “this is a big day for them”.

The last instance in which Shiels had mentioned emotions proved to be a controversial time. It was during a post-match press conference after the aforementioned loss to England a few months ago, when he described women as being "more emotional than men".

He swiftly and repeatedly apologised since, and the players have all rallied round and supported the 66-year-old, who has led them to their first ever major tournament in the shape of this year’s Euros.

“Kenny’s comments were blown out of all proportion, we’re all fully behind him,” NI’s top goal scorer Rachel Furness told the Guardian at the weekend. “We can all make mistakes with wording but without Kenny I wouldn’t be sitting here, talking to you and preparing for my first major tournament.”

As the smallest and lowest-ranking side going into the competition, NI beat all expectations and bets by even reaching the finals. But that doesn’t mean they have any inclination of stopping there or seeming satisfied.

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Northern Ireland striker Simone Magill ahead of her flight to the Women's Euros Finals in Southampton 2022 (Credit: Belfast Telegraph)

Northern Ireland striker Simone Magill ahead of her flight to the Women's Euros Finals in Southampton 2022 (Credit: Belfast Telegraph)

Northern Ireland striker Simone Magill ahead of her flight to the Women's Euros Finals in Southampton 2022 (Credit: Belfast Telegraph)

“Our whole lives we’ve been tipped as underdogs and if anything, that gives you more fire in the belly to go and show everything what you’re about,” striker Simone Magill told the Belfast Telegraph before boarding her Monday flight.

“We did that by getting to this tournament. Everyone wrote us off and we overcame that and qualified. We’re here and we deserve to be here. We’re not going to go to these games just to make up numbers. We’re going to go and we really want to compete. Yes, they’re world class teams but we have every right to be there, just as much as they do.

“Hopefully this is opening up a real pathway for future generations and it isn’t a one-off, and this is the first of many major tournaments for Northern Ireland to go on to qualify for. The most important game is your next one and that’s very much our mind set going into the tournament.”

Around 3,000 NI fans are travelling over to Southampton for the tournament.

The green and white army’s first game will kick off at 8pm on Thursday at Southampton’s St Mary’s stadium.

They then face Austria on Monday, before taking on England – one of the tournament favourites – on Friday, July 15.

Live coverage is on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.


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