Opposed to Norway this Thursday, Northern Ireland is about to discover its very first final phase of an international competition. A mix of professional and amateur players, the 47th nation in the world has beefed up its preparation to put the odds on its side in order to succeed in this baptism of fire.
07/07/2022 at 9:00 p.m.
The only nation located beyond the top 30 in the world engaged in this Euro 2022, Northern Ireland does not intend to make up the numbers there. Qualified at the last minute after a controlled passage through the play-off box in the spring of 2021 against Ukraine (victories 2-1 in the first leg and 2-0 in the return), the 47e world nation is counting on this continental competition to change gears.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) April 13, 2021
Thus, since January, 22 players have temporarily abandoned their work or their studies to devote themselves to football. “It was important that all the players prepared fullyexplains Angela Platt, director of women’s football within the Northern Irish federation. A number of them have full-time or part-time jobs. They juggled between their work and their training. It was therefore important to provide them with the necessary framework and support so that they could fully prepare for the Euro. » Said like that, nothing more logical. However, this band of girls comes from afar.
Northern Ireland, football, work, in that order
“We are very lucky and privileged to have this new mode of operation. It’s been very positive so far and I like coming to train. That’s what I want to do: play football every day.” , Glentoran player Lauren Wade enthused BBC just five weeks into the new program she is taking part in. A novelty made possible thanks to the benevolence of the employers and universities where the various internationals evolved. “All were only too happy to fully support the approach we have taken, allowing the players to benefit from this football time” rejoices Angela Platt.
“Our players are role models and ambassadors, not only for Northern Irish football, but also for their clubs, communities and employers. » Angela Platt
The event goes beyond the framework of football since it is only the ninth qualification of a senior team, male or female – the second since 1990, after that of the men for Euro 2016 – for a major competition. “Our players are role models and ambassadors, not only for Northern Irish football, but also for their clubs, their communities and their employers.continues the leader. I think the employers understood that they could be proud to be associated with a player who was going to represent Northern Ireland. »
Preparation before taking the baccalaureate
Especially since the results of this preparation already seem positive for Angela Pratt: “All the players and staff were happy with this opportunity. Everything went as well as we would have liked. » All that remains is to validate all these elements on the meadow. Placed in a group made up of England, Austria and Norway, Northern Ireland was not really spared. However, the one who is at the head of women’s football in a country which does not have its own anthem and which will have to be content with God Save the Queen this Thursday evening, don’t worry too much: “We know that our group represents a real challenge with very strong teams but our team has already thwarted the odds before. I know the players will represent us with pride. » To achieve this, they could well draw inspiration from their male counterparts, authors of a remarkable journey during Euro 2016.
Eighth-of-finalists, Will Grigg and his teammates were extracted from a group made up of Germany, Poland and Ukraine before coming up against the other sensation of this edition, Wales. “This new generation has new dreams, we believe that we too can seize our chance like the men in 2016. We can also count on the support of the Green Army which often travels in large numbers. » Simone Magill and her colleagues intend to take advantage of this tournament to “Inspire future generations” according to Angela Platt.
No anthem but the future as a banner
More than an outcome, the Northern Irish leaders see this qualification “historical” as a step: “This tournament provides a unique opportunity to grow and improve things, from our current team to building the next generation, to our role models, our players, and everyone who has worked behind the scenes to help them achieve their dream and create new dreams for others. »
“The beauty I see in women’s football is that it brings together so many different communities that it represents everyone in our country” Angela Platt
And this even if the awakening, and the return to reality – and to work or studies – could well be brutal for some players once the competition is over. “We hope that some take advantage of this European exposure to obtain contractssays the director of women’s football. We also work with our clubs to help them develop and support our players. It will be difficult to continue the momentum we have felt with this preparation but we are hopeful that our players can continue in a professional environment. » Another important point for all the management of this team, which is still a novice at the highest international level: “As they return to their clubs, we hope they share this experience to inspire those who play alongside them to develop our next generation and make these qualifications more frequent. » Thus, this first experience could well benefit an entire ecosystem and accelerate the development of football still far from the highest level and from European and international standards.
This participation could, as probably only this sport can do so well, bring together a still divided society, marked by years of civil war. “Football can touch many aspects of society and change lives in many ways, but the beauty of women’s football is that it brings together so many different communities that it represents everyone in our country.” , concludes Angela Platt. Which, it must be admitted, is already not nothing these days. As for the field, all they have to do is show off their colors on the side of St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton this Thursday evening, believing very strongly in a feat against Norway. And no doubt also hoping to benefit from beginner’s luck.
By Florian Porta
Words by Angela Platt collected by FP.