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'Now the GAWA will come and support us': Kenny Shiels overcome with emotion over meaning of Northern Ireland's quest for Women's Euro 2022 play-offs



Jackie Burns, Kenny Shiels and Sarah McFadden celebrate at the final whistle on Friday evening.

Jackie Burns, Kenny Shiels and Sarah McFadden celebrate at the final whistle on Friday evening.

William Cherry/Presseye

Jackie Burns, Kenny Shiels and Sarah McFadden celebrate at the final whistle on Friday evening.

Northern Ireland women's manager Kenny Shiels was overcome with emotion after his side's nail-biting 3-2 win over Belarus on Friday evening.

The victory means the girls are now just one win away from earning a spot in the Women's Euro 2022 play-offs, which they can do when the Faroe Islands visit Seaview on Tuesday.

Friday's success marked arguably the biggest win in Northern Ireland women's football history but will be surpassed if the job is complete next week.

And it's the opportunity to make such a mark on the sport throughout the country that so touched the boss.

"I've never been as nervous in my life," he said. "The emotions of the girls is making me emotional. I really wanted them to have the feeling of giving ourselves a chance and keeping ourselves in that race.

"It's disappointing there wasn't a crowd here. It's a great message for the women's game. Now this Green and White Army is going to come to all our games I hope and this stadium won't be able to hold them, when we get back to normal.

"That's why I'm so proud, to be able to make a contribution to that."

He had certainly been put through the ringer as Northern Ireland were twice pegged back and even had celebrations cut short when a goal that would have opened up a 2-0 lead was belatedly chalked off as the officials decided it hadn't crossed the line.

"It was well over the line," said Shiels. " That period of indecision from the referee and her assistants was quite deplorable to be perfectly honest.

"There was a nervousness. We went from 2-0 to 1-1 in three minutes. Psychologically that killed us until half time but they showed character and guts in the second half - all the attributes that it takes to be successful.

"I was thinking, why is this happening? Why can we not have a smooth game? I want to do it for them to give them this opportunity. Some of our players are 33, 34 and 35. In their whole career they haven't had this opportunity so if we could get to the play-offs, wouldn't that be great.

"Whether we qualify or not, the experience of this will stay with these players for a long, long time. The experienced players pulled us through tonight."

The result means Northern Ireland have now won three qualifiers on the bounce - a run made all the more special for the number of home-based players in the panel, including goal-scorer Kirsty McGuinness (Sion Swifts).

"Kirsty was outstanding," said Shiels. "She knows how much I think of her. She's brilliant. She has that spacial awareness. She's one of the best players in the women's game. A lot of these girls could be playing in England.

"It's remarkable what they have done so far. They're competing at the highest level in eastern Europe and we have players playing in the Irish League. It's the same as Ian Baraclough using Irish League players to compete with this level of opponent."

Belfast Telegraph