Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland girls are loving experience of being Euro stars: Kirsty McCaughtry

By Laure James

They're adorning billboards and buses, and get pep talks from Carl Frampton, yet Northern Ireland's Under-19s still can't get used to the hype.

Kirsty McCaughtry knows the team are in the spotlight as Northern Ireland hosts the Uefa Women's Under-19 European Championship, but admits the high fever is unprecedented.

"It can be a bit overwhelming to see just how excited everyone is," the goalkeeper said. "It's a very new experience for us, because we're the first to be at a finals tournament.

"The media attention, the professionalism, every bus, bus shelter and billboard has the tournament on it. It feels so official.

"It's been a lot of work to get here, we've known for the best part of two and a half years this tournament was coming and it's been fantastic to be part of it."

Boxer and die-hard Northern Ireland fan Frampton dropped in yesterday to see the girls and wish them luck, during a full programme of training, photo shoots and homework.

Northern Ireland's showpiece opener against Spain, one of the competition's most successful sides, kicks off at 7pm tomorrow, and McCaughtry can't wait.

"I think there's more attention paid to women's football, the Euros were so big for that and the fact this competition is happening so soon after is important," she said. "We want to see an increase in people participating because it's such good fun.

"I hope we get a big crowd and the crowd gets behind us. Spain are a high-scoring team, but we just want to put in a good performance and be strong in defence to make it difficult for them."

Netherlands lifted the Women's Euro trophy on their own turf last night - and four of their players had represented the Dutch at U19 level in Slovakia little over 12 months ago.

McCaughtry added: "Nadine Kessler came over and did the draw and said this tournament is massive for those wanting to play senior international football, and that's what you want.

"You want to put yourselves up against the best and to step up your game to the next level."

Alongside Spain, Northern Ireland will face Germany and Scotland in Group A.

"There's a strong sense of belief in the team, we really believe we can get something from this tournament," she insisted.

"As hosts people will think we're only here because of that but we want to be competitive. We have improved so much. We are fitter, technically better players and have matured a lot."

• The Netherlands became women's European champions for the first time yesterday.

The hosts beat Denmark 4-2 in front of a sell-out 30,000 crowd in Enschede, with Vivianne Miedema (2), Lieke Martens and Sherida Spitse all on target.

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