Irish FA chiefs Patrick Nelson and President Conrad Kirkwood have backed Northern Ireland’s heroes to keep doing the country proud at the Euro 2022 showpiece.
The major tournament swung into action last night and Kenny Shiels’ side join the party when they wrestle with Norway at St Mary’s Stadium tonight (8pm).
With the preparations, which included a seven-month full-time programme now complete, it’s time for the action to commence with Northern Ireland’s women’s side set to feature in the finals of a major tournament for the first time.
“Today is a special day in the history of football in Northern Ireland,” said Irish FA Chief Executive, Patrick Nelson.
“Only four times before have we kicked off in a major tournament and all of the previous occasions featured our senior men’s team. The spotlight is rightfully on our senior women’s team as they take to the pitch in Southampton as one of only 16 qualifiers for the UEFA women’s Euro finals. The interest in their achievements so far has been nothing short of phenomenal.
“Our role is to translate the goodwill and buzz built up at elite level to the grassroots. As an association we will work to ensure the structures are in place so that our clubs, and their players, can flourish and this journey can continue on when we land back in Northern Ireland, whenever that may be.”
Irish FA President Conrad Kirkwood says the legacy created by this tournament appearance must be built on.
“This is an opportunity to create moments which will change the narrative from how far women’s football has come to how far can women and girls’ football can go now,” said Kirkwood. “The chance for the legacy are huge and must be realised. The teams are a credit to our wee country and tomorrow night really will be a momentous occasion.”
Norway finisher Ada Hegerberg (26) in a player to watch in Northern Ireland’s group.
She won the inaugural Ballon d’Or in 2018, having previously stepped down from international football in protest at what she saw as a lack of respect for female players in Norway.
England defender Lucy Bronze, who played with Hegerberg at Lyon, added: “Ada is just a winner. The girl is crazy in that respect. I can remember games where she’d come up to me beforehand and say, ‘You just get the ball in the box and I’ll score’. She’s obsessed with scoring.”