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After their Euro 2022 heroics, NI's women internationals - and their families - become famous overnight


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INUNDATED: Sarah McFadden and sister Helen Hampsey

INUNDATED: Sarah McFadden and sister Helen Hampsey

INUNDATED: Sarah McFadden and sister Helen Hampsey

Bellaghy is buzzing and Cookstown has gone crazy since the Northern Ireland women's team qualified for the 2022 Euro football finals.

As well as the players now becoming household names, family members are suddenly local celebrities on the back of the play-off victory over Ukraine that secured a place at next summer's tournament in England.

Seamus Heaney's name will forever be associated with his home village of Bellaghy, but the attention there is now on Northern Ireland midfielder Sarah McFadden and her sister Helen, even though she has never played international football.

"My mum has got tortured with people calling. In the local town, people are beeping their horns at her," said Sarah, who was on a plane back to Newcastle-upon-Tyne the morning after the match and then back training with her club Durham 48 hours after the win over Ukraine.

"My sister, she's afraid to go to the shop now because people keep thinking she's me.

"All of my sisters have been inundated with messages of support. It's just been amazing that bit of it."

Flying a lot further than Sarah was goalkeeper Jackie Burns.

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Jackie Burns

Jackie Burns

William Cherry/Presseye

Jackie Burns

The Cookstown woman had plenty of time to reflect on the amazing achievements of the team as she headed back to finish her university term in America.

"I wish I was able to stay at home longer to let it sink in with my family and friends, but to see the support flooding through with the text messages has been great," she said.

"I've had messages from relatives saying they watched the game - probably the first time they watched a full game of football in their lives - so that shows the level of support I had, which is amazing.

"Even the support from friends, whether they were at home or in America, has been unbelievable. It's hard to thank them all individually.

"It eventually hit me when I watched back the last minutes of the game before take-off and the post-match interviews with Nadene Caldwell, Marissa Callaghan and Kenny Shiels.

"To actually say we are going to the Euros is crazy."

The widespread attention is something that the girls know they will have to get used to over the next year.

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RESULT: Northern Ireland’s Sarah McFadden and Ukraine’s Olha Boychenko during Tuesday’s play-off at Seaview

RESULT: Northern Ireland’s Sarah McFadden and Ukraine’s Olha Boychenko during Tuesday’s play-off at Seaview

RESULT: Northern Ireland’s Sarah McFadden and Ukraine’s Olha Boychenko during Tuesday’s play-off at Seaview

Sarah, who has been playing for Northern Ireland for the past 17 years, did not expect to attract so much focus, but she spent most of the next morning fielding telephone calls.

"I got absolutely tortured," she said with a smile.

"I got asked to go on Radio Newcastle, and when the IFA communications department realised I was awake, I had calls from Radio Ulster, Radio Foyle, Five Live and then I got stuck on Sky Sports too. I was tortured and I got very little sleep, although I was very sensible."

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Jackie Burns collects a cross

Jackie Burns collects a cross

Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Jackie Burns collects a cross

One person glad to see her home was husband Damian, who had literally been left holding the baby - three-year-old daughter Harper - while mum was off making history.

"He said he's knackered because he's had Harper for 10 days non-stop and the schools are closed, so she hasn't even been at nursery and he's been trying to work and chase her while I was away," she added.

Kenny's girls come of age, Ivan Little, page 20


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