Our gifted girls are ready to hit the big time, says Wylie
Alfie Wylie insists Northern Ireland's Euro ride can be the first step in reaching the top.
The long-standing coach believes the UEFA Under-19 European Championship, which gets under way on Tuesday, could lead to hitting the big time, after his girls were inspired by Austria's heroics at the senior finals in the Netherlands.
Northern Ireland will take on Germany, Scotland and Spain in Group A, beginning with the Spaniards, who emerged as the top scorers in qualifying with 39 goals, including an 18-0 slaughter of Latvia.
"Everyone's been watching how Austria have done at the Women's Euros in Holland, and we've set our sights on that for eight, or possibly even four years to come," Wylie said.
"England did really well and Denmark, a side who are also hugely improved, have got through to Sunday's final, but Austria really captured everyone's imagination.
"A few of us from the Irish FA visited Austria's academy a while ago, where they were going to school but also training seven times a week and now they're reaping the rewards of that."
The self-belief which propelled Northern Ireland to the last 16 of the men's European Championship in France last year is still pulsing through the other representative teams, with the under-19 women looking forward to showing what they can do against their very best counterparts throughout the continent.
Northern Ireland has never qualified for a women's finals tournament at any level, and now, freshly crowned as women's section champions at the SuperCupNI, are determined to give an excellent account of themselves.
"We have been working hard for months for this," Wylie added.
"We train throughout the week, putting in three gym and two pitch sessions a week, plus a double session on Sundays.
"That has put us in a great position. We played Wales in the SuperCupNI and their senior side is ranked 30 places above us - it had been so long since we'd got a result over them so to have won 3-1 and 4-0 was brilliant.
"So much of that is down to our excellent team.
"Noel Mitchell took a year out of Irish League coaching to be with the girls every week, Damien McCorry has been working with our goalkeepers, Alison Nicholl has been prepping the under-17s in the event they're called up and Marissa Callaghan has been a great female role model for them.
"I also want to pay credit to Amy Bell, our physio, and Johnny Pedlow, our fitness trainer, who have given up so much to help us," he said.
Wylie admits, however, to having had to overcome the initial shock of how tough facing teams packed with professional players can be, and confesses they had been naïve in their preparation last year.
"We took part in a preliminary tournament in October, when we welcomed England, France and the United States to Northern Ireland for a few friendlies," he added.
"It was exceptionally tough, but that's when the penny dropped.
"After we played them, it was clear there was a certain naivety as to what was expected at the top level.
"We thought, 'we have seven top nations coming to play in August' and stepped things up to be fully prepared, within a relatively short period.
"We got the players, clubs and their parents together, highlighted what we wanted to do, and people bought into it.
"It gave our team the green light to help prepare our players the way we wanted, and everyone responded very well to the changes.
"We came in over Christmas and had a very structured training and fitness level programme devised by the Ulster University," he explained.
"As a coach, sometimes you ask if these things are working and if it's the right thing to do but it definitely is, we've seen some excellent outcomes and we have been able to measure our progress.
"We played friendlies with Turkey, as they had qualified for the Elite Round, we won 1-0 and drew 1-1 in a game that we should have won, but it was encouraging for us to see that," he added.
"Then we went to Spain for a training camp, which had top level facilities, and in June we played Slovakia, who hosted these finals last year.
"The senior women's team is ranked over 20 places above us but you could tell they had used last year's tournament to build a legacy, and that's what we want.
"That's how we can get to the senior Euros in years to come," he said.
Alongside Northern Ireland's Group A adventures, France, England, Italy and the Netherlands face each other in Group B.
The group games are being staged on August 8, 11 and 14 while the semi-finals are on August 17 and the final on August 20.
Tickets are now on sale via the Ticketmaster website, while the full list of fixtures and further information is available at www.irishfa.com and www.uefa.com.