Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland women must dare to dream of a place at World Cup finals: Shiels

 

Players like Everton's Simone Magill will be standard bearers for Kenny Shiels' Northern Ireland side.
Players like Everton's Simone Magill will be standard bearers for Kenny Shiels' Northern Ireland side.
On run: Scotland’s Chloe Arthur and England’s Karen Carney

By Steven Beacom

New Northern Ireland women's team manager Kenny Shiels wants to inspire a mentality in his squad that makes them believe they can play in the World Cup finals in the future.

This year's competition in France is receiving more exposure than any previous women's tournament with BBC screening all the games live and 6.1 million people (a record for a women's game) tuning in to watch England's 2-1 group victory over Scotland in Nice on Sunday.

While through the decades the Northern Ireland men's team have reached four major tournaments (World Cup 1958, 1982 and 1986 and the European Championships 2016), the women's side have never qualified for such an event.

Former Coleraine, Carrick, Ballymena United, Derry City and Kilmarnock boss Shiels would love to change that.

"Women's football is going places and Northern Ireland women's football needs to be on that journey too," he said.

"I'm hoping the Women's World Cup finals will have a positive impact on Northern Ireland. This World Cup is being given more profile than any other women's tournament and that can only be good for the game.

"Young people need role models. I remember when I was young, you would watch the men's World Cup and you would be inspired by the players you saw on television and I want that to be the same for young girls across Northern Ireland watching this World Cup and hoping one day to play for their country on that stage.

"The games I've watched in the Women's World Cup so far shows the standard is very good and I can see that improving in years to come. It's important for us as a nation to do the same and I'll do all I can to make that happen.

"The next World Cup is four years away. Can we qualify for that? I don't know. First and foremost we want to change the mentality in Northern Ireland so that we believe we can qualify for a major tournament.

"I'm not going to make stupid statements and say we will reach the next World Cup because right now our focus is on the 2021 European Championships and playing against Norway in a qualifier in August, but I do want us to strive to reach for the stars.

"There is a lot that we can achieve between now and the next World Cup to prepare ourselves and to put ourselves in contention because at the moment we are not in contention.

"I want our players to watch the World Cup as it can inspire them in terms of the levels they need to reach to play in a major tournament."

Shiels sees players like Simone Magill at Everton and Reading's Rachel Furness as standard bearers for Northern Ireland, showing that girls from here can succeed across the water.

He adds that he is keen to have a strong relationship with his predecessor Alfie Wylie, who is now the Irish FA's Head of Women's Elite Performance.

"Alfie has put a lot of time and effort into women's football and I want to work with him to move it forward," said Shiels, who is bringing his squad together at the weekend for an 'important and useful' four-day training camp at Greenmount College ahead of the Euro qualifier on August 30 at home to Norway.

Apart from Norway, Wales, Belarus and Faroe Islands are in Northern Ireland's Euro 2021 group. The finals will be hosted in England.

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