- The Northern Ireland women’s national team has qualified for a major tournament for the first time
- Kenny Sheel’s offensive oriented team underwent a dramatic transformation
- Striker Simon Magil dares to face challenges at the Euros and the World Cup
“The greatest sporting achievement I can imagine” is absolutely an acknowledgment.
The innate temptation to dismiss it as an exaggeration only increases when one realizes that the Northern Irish national coach himself said exactly what he said about his team. However, a look at the numbers behind the rise of the Kenny Shields team is enough to understand his respect.
Northern Ireland’s successful qualification for the Women’s UEFA Euro was a true football fairy tale and an achievement that even the always optimistic Sheals have not expected.
After all, the team that played eight games from March to September 2018 lost all eight – 1:24 of the total goal difference. Northern Ireland slipped to 66th in the FIFA / Coca-Cola Women’s World Rankings. Meanwhile, Northern Irish rose to 48th place again. However, they are by far the weakest Euro partners (Russia ranks 25th as the second weakest team).
Kosovo, Slovakia, the Republic of Ireland and Ukraine are the teams that Northern Ireland lost in a series of defeats. Northern Ireland suffered another defeat to Ukraine in the Pinnacle Cup last year, this time 4-0. When the two teams met again in the Euro Playoffs in April 2021, Ukraine was 25th ahead of Northern Ireland in the world rankings.
The Shields squad, which is almost entirely amateurish, was weakened by even eight injured players. Yet the Northern Irish won a clear and deserved overall victory of 4: 1, both at home and abroad.
“It’s a really amazing story,” said Simon Magill, one of the team’s two professionals. FIFA.com. “I’ve heard a lot of people want to make a movie and I understand what they mean, because it’s a really inspiring story.
What we have achieved with this team of almost complete amateurs is incredible. Although I am only 26 years old, I have been part of the team for almost 11 years. Some players have been with us for a long time and we have seen a lot of pitfalls together.
In a few games we got to the bottom of the wheels. In a few games before the storm, I felt like I was touching the ball. This is frustrating. But as a group we are always together even in these difficult times and that means we can have more fun now.
For years I dreamed of qualifying for a big tournament and being part of the first Northern Irish women’s team to do so. That was what I dreamed of. Winning this playoffs was the best moment of my career. “
Northern Ireland’s qualification is doubly commendable the way it came to be. Attack football is the recipe for success after the team has had a more defensive attitude. Magellan can name the turning point exactly.
“When Kenny was appointed national coach (in May 2019) he introduced a new way, which is completely new to us,” Everton forward said. “In the years before him, we always had the attitude of being big on defense, ten players behind ten if possible. But from the start he told us: ‘You can play, so go out and catch the ball without fear.’
“We immersed ourselves in the fire with this new style of play against Norway. But even as we fell four or five goals behind (Northern Ireland lost 6-0), Kenny encouraged us to continue to plant a criminal offense from the defense” We saw how committed he was. It really inspired us and instead of getting angry about it we just learned from it and kept playing. The first results came soon. “
The Shields’ style is no risk, of course, as they have consistently exposed in the recent England friendly – the score was 6-0. Northern Ireland will have to play England again to qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but despite the challenges ahead at the UEFA Euros, Magellan has no option but to return to Northern Ireland’s defensive style.
“It’s true that England gave us a very difficult game in February,” she said. “However, some young players have attracted a lot of players from the opposing team and I don’t think we as a team will make that mistake again. Next time we will give it our all and give it all.
We now have a very healthy sense of confidence and can take last year’s experience in which we achieved something that no one else could have qualified for the World Cup. It will be the same in the case of the Euro. We need to find the right balance, but I have no doubt that knowing Kenny will keep us trying to play good football, show aggression and do the things that got us there first. “
The brave style of play and the unlikely victory sent a blur across the country. In her immediate atmosphere, Magg already found an example for young players to draw inspiration from herself.
“My five-year-old daughter-in-law started playing football a few weeks ago,” she explains. “My brother was quite into football so she would play somehow, but she told everyone who saw the final on TV, ‘One day I will play for Northern Ireland like my aunt Simon.’
It was great to hear that many other girls have started having the same dream. We want them to be a role model, and I believe we have shown them what you can achieve when you have a big dream.