Belfast Telegraph

Republic will feel the force of Northern Ireland backlash, says ladies' star


By Adam McKendry

It doesn't matter which sport is being played, where it's being played or who is playing it - derbies between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are fixtures dominated by passion.

And so it will be at Mourneview Park tonight when Northern Ireland Women meet their southern counterparts in a World Cup qualifier (kick-off 7.30pm).

It's a rare meeting between the two sides - there hasn't been a cross-border derby between the two women's sides since 2000 - and it's a game both sides have been relishing.

Northern Ireland midfielder Caragh Milligan grins: "We know it's a big derby and that adds a lot of flavour to the fixture. It's a totally different game when you go into something like this when it's such a big rivalry."

The 20-year-old is speaking at the Stormont Hotel, where the team are preparing for the big clash, and the excitement in her voice is undeniable.

It's a chance for her and her team-mates to atone for last Friday's opening 4-1 defeat to Norway, a result which she believes didn't do them justice on the night.

On the face of it, it isn't a terrible result given that Norway are the highest ranked side in the group and Northern Ireland are the lowest, but two goals conceded in the final minutes of both halves did the damage.

While 16-year-old goalkeeper Lauren Perry, making her senior debut, did her best to keep the scoreline to a minimum, the class of the Norwegians shone through.

Milligan, the goalscorer in Fredrikstad, says they showed glimpses of what they can do as well, but ultimately they know they must improve tonight on what was a poor result to begin their campaign.

"It was a disappointing result but I think the goal showed what we can do going forward," Milligan says.

"It was a good team goal, it was a quick break and it's what we're good at, we're good at playing on the counter attack, breaking forward with a lot of pace.

"So we're happy with the goal at the end but the result was disappointing. Conceding four goals, you never want to do that.

"We knew Norway were going to be a tough side and we'd be under pressure because they'd have a lot of possession, but conceding four goals is something we're very disappointed with, especially when we take pride in being a strong defensive unit.

"We're disappointed that let us down on Friday night."

Despite the loss, Milligan says Northern Ireland are remaining positive and looking to build upon a result against one of the better European teams.

"I think it was more individual errors and we have to look at ourselves and take accountability for the mistakes we made," states the midfielder, who plays her club football for Fylkir in Iceland. "We've looked at that now and we'll learn from that going forward, it's a learning process in every game."

Milligan is also confident that having already played a match will put them at an advantage over the Republic squad, who are beginning their campaign tonight.

Their squad, headlined by Sunderland midfielder Stephanie Roche, features six women who play their club football professionally in England, highlighting the depth of talent at the disposal of head coach Colin Bell.

Regardless, Milligan is determined that her and her team-mates will have addressed what they lacked in Norway a week ago and they'll get a positive result tonight.

"We know things we have to fix, we know what we did well and what we didn't do well," Milligan admits.

"You can do as much as you want in training, but playing a game is a big bonus to really blow the cobwebs away and fix things that weren't going right.

"It can look fine on the training pitch but it's really in a match situation that you really see what counts. We've looked at things that went wrong and we know we're going to put them right against the Republic of Ireland."

Manager Alfie Wylie will have to contend without defender Cathy Hyndman, who has been ruled out due to an injury sustained last week in Norway, while Everton Ladies striker Simone Magill is also set to miss out again.

However, Wylie will be able to call upon in-form Sion Swifts captain Kendra McMullan, who has recovered from illness, as well as goalkeeper Emma Higgins, who has rejoined the squad.

Entry to the game is free to all, with no ticket required, and there will be a FanZone set up outside the ground that will open from 5.30pm and close 15 minutes before kick-off.

Belfast Telegraph

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