Ruth Gorman: Northern Ireland aren't at Euros to make up numbers... anything is possible

Rachel Furness celebrating Northern Ireland's qualification for the European Championships. Presseye
Rachel Furness celebrating Northern Ireland's qualification for the European Championships. Credit: Press Eye

It feels like we've been talking about the Euros for a long time now, doesn't it? The excitement hasn't waned ever since those crutches-in-the-air celebrations took place behind closed doors at a locked-down Seaview in April 2021. A new era began for Northern Ireland football that night. Suddenly the women's team were no longer an afterthought.

As a young reporter starting out I covered the local women's game covering the likes of Ashley Hutton, Marissa Callaghan, Julie Nelson and Sarah McFadden. Performing on the world stage at the team's first ever major tournament is what they deserve. These women have sacrificed and poured their lives into growing the game at home and they continue to teach those all around them.

Ruth with Marissa Callaghan on the night her team qualified for the Euros.

Speaking to one of Marissa's Cliftonville team mates before their Jordan's Gift League Cup Final, Grace McKimm told me: "I love Marissa, she has a presence and all the young players really look up to her, she doesn't even realise the impact she has on us all." For Marissa to have made the trip was vital - she has led the team on and off the field to this stage and they need her when it matters most.

Interviewing Marissa after Northern Ireland qualified was the same surreal feeling I got when interviewing the men's captain Steve Davis when they qualified for their first Euros - they are iconic moments that people will talk about for years to come.

The women's achievement is in a league of its own though.

Sixteen teams will take part in the Euros this summer, 15 are the top 15 seeds in Europe, and the 47th placed team in the world Northern Ireland is the other. They've come a long way since Kenny Shiels' first game in charge at the very start of the Euro qualifying campaign against Norway when they lost 6-0.

At that stage no one would have believed where they would end up, but a shift in mindset and a belief that they could turn things around very quickly shone through. In the end they lost only two out of their eight games.

Northern Ireland Women leave for the Euros

Northern Ireland face Norway again in their opening pool match at the Euros on Thursday. Familiar foes from their World Cup qualifying group Austria and England follow next week with all of their games being played at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton. Yet again they'll go in as underdogs and yet again they'll not be expected to shock anyone but don't be fooled.

In front of the 3,000 Green and White Army fans expected to travel with a volume level at least twice as loud as they should have, anything is possible with this special group.

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