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Sarah McFadden: No excuses for underdogs Northern Ireland in crunch Euro play-offs against Ukraine

Experienced star is fired up for Ukrainian play-off challenge


Final preparations: Northern Ireland train in Kiev ahead of today’s Euro encounter

Final preparations: Northern Ireland train in Kiev ahead of today’s Euro encounter

William Cherry/Presseye

Final preparations: Northern Ireland train in Kiev ahead of today’s Euro encounter

Sarah McFadden is focused on the present and not the prize as she goes for glory with Northern Ireland's girls in green.

Their destination, the Women's Euro 2022 in England, is in sight, but for Sarah and her team mates it is now about completing the final leg of what has already been an exciting and enthralling roller-coaster journey.

Beating Ukraine over two legs will see Northern Ireland make history by qualifying for a major tournament for the first time and, rightly, Kenny Shiels' players are daring to dream - and have been doing so since they clinched their place in the play-offs by beating the Faroe Islands last December.

Now, however, they are getting their game heads on and switching their full attention to the task in front of them, which is beating Ukraine over 180 minutes of football, starting at the Kolos Stadium in Kovalivka today.

"We are excited now," said McFadden after landing in Ukraine.

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"We have got the travel out of the way. We've got our last training session out of the way and now we can concentrate on the business that we have got to do.

"We're all just happy to be here and everyone is in really good spirits and we are ready to go.

"We are not even thinking of the Euros in England. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves.

"We have two massive games ahead of us. We are the underdogs against Ukraine but hopefully we can get the job done."

Seventy five caps into her Northern Ireland career, which now spans 17 years, McFadden has seen and done a lot as an international footballer - but not it all.

Many players have come and gone over that time since she, along with other long-serving squad members Julie Nelson and Ashley Hutton, played in the Algarve Cup in 2005 after the Irish FA took the women's international team under their umbrella.

A strong team spirit has been harvested over the years and that will also play a part as every one of them faces the biggest match of their careers to date.

"We have got a really good group that have been together for a long time," said McFadden.

"When it comes to this point, we can't have any excuses. We've just got to get out there and do the job. We are fully prepared for anything that we will come up against."

Ukraine is currently experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases that is close to the country's previous peak in late November last year.

Like next Tuesday's second leg at Seaview, the game will be played in front of empty stands and, with no crowd to have to silence today, McFadden believes that wipes out an element of home advantage that, in contrast, she doesn't think will affect Northern Ireland in the crucial return match.

"I think Ukraine not having fans at the game will benefit us a little bit because the Ukrainians might have fed off their supporters being there," she said.

"We are used to playing in empty stadiums now so we will be okay with that and will not really think about it - and hopefully just get the job done."

Ω REPUBLIC of Ireland Women were beaten 1-0 by Denmark in last night's friendly game at Tallaght Stadium.

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