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Northern Ireland's trust in each other and hard work behind the scenes can lead to Euro joy, says Shiels



Top class: Julie Nelson and Laura Rafferty at training yesterday

Top class: Julie Nelson and Laura Rafferty at training yesterday

William Cherry/Presseye

Top class: Julie Nelson and Laura Rafferty at training yesterday

Mutual trust and an attitude of being ready and willing to do anything for each other are the qualities Kenny Shiels claims have carried Northern Ireland to history.

Already the team has gone further than ever before by reaching the Women's Euro 2022 qualifying play-offs and Shiels believes those inner strengths can take them past Ukraine and into the finals in England next summer.

Already they have shown great togetherness through adversity, first beating Belarus 1-0 away from home with just 10 players for the final hour of the game before having to score three times to see off the same opposition at home.

Then, in the crucial game that would decide their fate, Northern Ireland had to come from behind to the only goal the Faroe Islands scored in the entire campaign to secure the three points that clinched runners-up spot in the group and their passage to this two-legged winner-takes-all battle.

Shiels has always been clear about his football principles and won't revert to a scenario of doing whatever it takes to win matches, but he does expect his players to do whatever it takes to win while staying within the team philosophy. And that, he believes, is something that sets Northern Ireland apart from other teams.

"We have a siege mentality, and we have trust and we have integrity. That is what keeps us going," said Shiels.

"I keep saying to them that you can't have trust and not integrity, you can't have integrity and not have trust, so we work on the trust of each other and we will do anything for each other, anything that it takes to get an outcome and that is the edge that we have.

"I am not saying that our opponents will not be working hard, but can they work harder than us?

"The girls are primed in a way in which they want to do everything they can to win both matches and qualify."

Adversity has come off the pitch too, with injury problems gripping a squad that has also been denied the opportunity of proper match practice due to coronavirus restrictions.

Add in journeys to and from Ukraine and the stadium in distant Kovalivka, which will be undertaken without latest casualties Abbie Magee and Lauren Wade, and it is clear that there is more than just 11 Ukrainian players to contend with.

Focus for the players is being honed in on 90 minutes on Friday night and ensuring that they are in a good position come the second leg next Tuesday.

Experienced defender Julie Nelson said: "There have been a lot of knocks along the way, losing Abbie a week before getting together and Lauren a few weeks before that, as well as not being able to play friendlies and all those other factors, but we can't control that.

"We have to try to control the controllables and focus on how we are going to perform.

"Since we met up on Sunday that has been our main focus. We have obviously talked about those players, but we have been missing players the whole way through this campaign.

"It hasn't been the same 11 or 14 players that have been on the pitch, there have been different players and we know that we can go and get this done as a group."

Belfast Telegraph

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