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Northern Ireland now have 'superstars' who can trouble England, says Sarah McFadden



Leader: Sarah McFadden has experience of playing England before

Leader: Sarah McFadden has experience of playing England before

�INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Leader: Sarah McFadden has experience of playing England before

Sarah McFadden is the epitome of those who say 'I'll play anywhere for my country.'

That desire and passion to do anything and give everything for Northern Ireland manifested in Belarus back in October when manager Kenny Shiels made a crucial tactical switch after goalkeeper Jackie Burns was sent off, moving Sarah from her normal midfield role to centre-half.

A few weeks later the vastly experienced Durham Women's star again answered her country's call to serve in defence for the crucial Women's Euro 2022 qualifier against the Faroe Islands after Demi Vance had sustained a cruciate ligament injury when facing Belarus a few days earlier.

Sarah's versatility is a major asset to Shiels and, in all likelihood, she can expect to play in more than one position when Northern Ireland face England in a pre-Euro play-off friendly tomorrow afternoon.

Less likely is a feeling of deja vu from the last meeting with England almost 13 years ago when Sarah was playing as a centre-forward.

"I played as the number nine in those days," Sarah recalled with a smile.

"That was my position back then and I'd a good time."

It's not just her role that has changed, however, the team has experienced an amazing transformation. That Euro 2022 play-off in less than two month's time is looming large and after Uefa yesterday launched their 500-day countdown the reality that Northern Ireland can make it to the finals is kicking in.

Sarah sees tomorrow's clash at St George's Park as a yardstick by which she and her team mates can show everyone the progress they have made since a 2-0 defeat in their last meeting with the English.

"A lot of these countries we're playing, we've played them at some part of our careers - well the older ones have anyway - so we've got a measuring point and we can tell by how it felt the last time we played them," said the 33-year-old. "We played Scotland in a tournament in Spain last year and we weren't that far off them.

"We were able to compete with them, we created chances and we were able to keep the ball against them. It's just those little things that we can all measure ourselves individually as well as a collective.

"I remember playing 180 minutes against England and I don't remember touching the ball more than 10 times.

"This time, if we are at least able to win the ball off them and create chances we can tell over the last 10 years how much we have improved."

Sarah recalls being largely isolated in attack against an England team that went on to lose to Germany in the Euro 2009 final.

More than a decade on, the Northern Ireland team has a much more generous sprinkling of attacking threats.

Rachel Furness has weighed in with a goal a game in the last four matches, Simone Magill's finishing prowess has taken her to the top of the game with Everton in England's Women's Super League and Lauren Wade made the whole of Europe sit up and take notice with a stunning strike for Glasgow City in the Champions League quarter-finals last year.

All that should mean things are very different in this clash with the Lionesses.

"I don't think I got close to the net let alone have a shot on goal the last time we played England," said Sarah.

"The thing is now we're very different, we have got plenty of players in the team that are a threat.

"We have superstars who can get in behind them. I know England are a massive team, but they haven't played competitive internationals in a long time and it's a massive difference playing between yourselves in an in-house game and playing against another country, even if it is just 'little Northern Ireland'.

"That's one thing that we can take into the game because playing and winning games has given us a confidence boost."

Belfast Telegraph