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Marissa Callaghan: Northern Ireland girls can prove 'unfair' Olympic selection longlist wrong in friendly against England



Marissa Callaghan gearing up to face England.

Marissa Callaghan gearing up to face England.

William Cherry/Presseye

Marissa Callaghan gearing up to face England.

Marissa Callaghan has highlighted Northern Ireland's friendly clash with star-studded England as the perfect opportunity for her team-mates to prove a point after an apparent snub.

Kenny Shiels is a firm candidate to take charge of the Great Britain Olympic team in Tokyo this summer after guiding Northern Ireland to the Women's Euro 2022 Play-Offs but, despite the players putting together an historic, record-breaking four-match winning run, none of his team have so far been earmarked for selection.

There was no Northern Ireland representation at London 2012 on the only previous occasion GB played in the Olympic women's football competition - goalkeeper Emma Higgins was on the reserve list, but Ashley Hutton and Sarah McFadden didn't make the final cut after initially being told they were in the frame for selection.

Nine years on, despite having Simone Magill playing at the top level in England with Everton Women and Rachel Furness across the city at Liverpool Women, the signs are that GB will again head to the Olympics without any Northern Ireland players in the squad.

The St George's Park clash on Tuesday is a key part of Northern Ireland's preparation for that Euro Play-Off contest in April and it now also serves as a showcase for some to plant a seed for Olympic selection, while those playing at home in the Danske Bank Women's Premiership get a chance to show their talent and potentially follow Chloe McCarron, who moved from Linfield Ladies to Birmingham City at the start of the season, into the WSL.

"It has been spoken about in the group," said Callaghan.

"We are playing England and there are going to be scouts watching it and with the Olympics coming up I know a few of the girls would want to be part of that squad.

"I feel like the girls aren't really getting a look in with the Olympic squad. I think it's a bit unfair because apart from England, who are the hosts, we are the only home nation that has qualified for the Play-Offs and at the minute none of our players are on the longlist. I think that's unfair.

"Everyone will see on Tuesday the players will go out and go up against the English players and will show the class that we have.

"I just hope that it raises a few eyebrows and it will give someone an opportunity because they thoroughly deserve it."

With 14 of Shiels' players coming from the domestic Premiership and the England squad almost entirely made up of stars from the WSL - including Ballon d'Or runner-up Lucy Bronze - it could be a case of entering the Lionesses' den for Northern Ireland, who would be facing a stiff test even with a full-strength line-up.

Shiels said: "If you think about that too much then you'll get beaten.

"We've got players who can play - although there are also players who we are going to miss badly that are not able to play because of work commitments and long-term injuries. Five of them would be potential starters.

"It will weaken us considerably, but enough of making excuses, it's get on with it time. We've got to get on with it and try to help the girls with their confidence and we might get a diamond out of it.

"Maybe someone stepping up will give us that."

Instead of fearing the worst, Shiels is remaining positive and he believes that the character in his squad will see them respond strongly even if they do suffer a major setback in terms of the result.

"I would be very surprised if we come out of this game not having made progress," he said.

"I really feel that this is a no-lose game for us and we will make progress in this game as a team and as a squad because these girls will not lie down and if we do take a beating we will rise again, believe me, because the girls are for each other."

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