Kenny Shiels today named the 23 players who will represent Northern Ireland at UEFA Women’s Euro 2022.
The senior women’s team boss (pictured, above) has chosen a squad packed with experience to compete in England at what will be Northern Ireland Women’s first major tournament.
It features two centurions in Crusaders Strikers defender Julie Nelson (125 caps) and Linfield Ladies defender Ashley Hutton (114 caps), who has battled back to fitness from a serious knee injury over the past 12 months to take her place in the panel.
Cliftonville Ladies midfielder Marissa Callaghan is still recovering from a toe injury, however she has been named as the captain of the squad and is expected to be ready for the Euros, which get under way on 6 July.
Callaghan is among a handful of players in the group who have earned between 70 and 100 caps. Liverpool Women midfielder Rachel Furness, Rangers Women defender Demi Vance, Durham Women defender Sarah McFadden and striker Simone Magill (unattached) also fall into that category.
And Glentoran Women midfielder Nadene Caldwell and Cliftonville Ladies forward Kirsty McGuinness are in the 50 caps-plus bracket.
Shiels has also given youth a chance, however. Lewes Women defender Rebecca McKenna, Cliftonville Ladies trio Kelsie Burrows, Abbie Magee and Caitlin McGuinness, Glentoran Women midfielder Joely Andrews and Crusaders Strikers forward Emily Wilson are all aged 21 or under, while Cliftonville Ladies midfielder Louise McDaniel is 22.
The only uncapped player in the group is Wolverhampton Wanderers Women keeper Shannon Turner. The 24-year-old has previously represented her country at U19 level.
Forward Kerry Beattie (unattached) and Cliftonville Ladies defender Toni-Leigh Finnegan, who were both in the squad for last week’s friendly against Belgium, have not made the cut. And nor has Southampton Women midfielder Ciara Watling.
Finnegan is not the only player who has been part of the full-time training squad since January to miss out. The others are Glentoran Women midfielder Sam Kelly, Crusaders Strikers defender Rachel McLaren, Crusaders Strikers goalkeeper Maddy Harvey-Clifford, Mid-Ulster Ladies goalkeeper Lilie Woods and Sion Swifts Ladies striker Cora Chambers.
And missing out through injury are Rangers Women midfielder Megan Bell, Glentoran Women midfielder Caragh Hamilton, Glentoran Women striker Danielle Maxwell and Linfield Ladies midfielder Vicky Carleton.
Northern Ireland’s first game at this summer’s Euros will be against Norway on 7 July followed by matches versus Austria (11 July) and tournament hosts England (15 July). All three of Northern Ireland’s group games (Group A) at the Euros are being staged at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton.
The video of today's squad announcement, a specially commissioned animated film, was narrated by Derry Girls star Tara Lynne O'Neill.
Northern Ireland Women squad for UEFA Women’s Euro 2022
Goalkeepers: Jackie Burns (BK Hacken), Becky Flaherty (Brighouse Town), Shannon Turner (Wolverhampton Wanderers Women).
Defenders: Kelsie Burrows (Cliftonville Ladies), Rebecca Holloway (Racing Louisville), Ashley Hutton (Linfield Ladies), Abbie Magee (Cliftonville Ladies), Sarah McFadden (Durham Women), Rebecca McKenna (Lewes Women), Julie Nelson (Crusaders Strikers), Laura Rafferty (Southampton Women), Demi Vance (Rangers Women).
Midfielders: Nadene Caldwell (Glentoran Women), Joely Andrews (Glentoran Women), Chloe McCarron (Glentoran Women), Marissa Callaghan (Cliftonville Ladies), Louise McDaniel (Cliftonville Ladies), Rachel Furness (Liverpool Women).
Forwards: Simone Magill (unattached), Caitlin McGuinness (Cliftonvillle Ladies), Kirsty McGuinness (Cliftonville Ladies), Lauren Wade (Glentoran Women), Emily Wilson (Crusaders Strikers).