Northern Ireland’s Senior Women had a difficult year during 2018, although there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.
Alfie Wylie’s side struggled against both superior and weaker opposition in Women’s World Cup France 2019 qualifiers but the games did help to introduce a raft of younger players to the senior set-up.
Before the qualifiers got under way the senior women took part in the Turkish Cup in February/March. They registered a win against Kazakhstan (2-0) and a draw against Romania (1-1) but lost to Ukraine (3-1) and Kosovo (1-0).
First up in this year’s World Cup qualifying fixtures were European champions The Netherlands. And they proved to be formidable opponents in their own backyard back in April.
Playing in front of a record crowd of more than 30,000 at the PSV Stadion in Eindhoven was an incredible experience for the Northern Ireland players even if they did lose to the Dutch by seven goals to nil.
A home game against Norway in Qualifying Group 3 quickly followed but again the opposition were on top throughout. The Norwegians, who would go on to win the group, won the game at Shamrock Park 3-0.
The Dutch then visited Northern Ireland in June – and produced a master class in Portadown. They strolled to a 5-0 victory.
Next up for the senior women was a World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at the Tallaght Stadium in Dublin, which they lost by four goals to nil.
The World Cup campaign – they finished second bottom of their group – drew to a close with a game against Slovakia at Shamrock Park back in September.
Alfie Wylie’s side had registered a 3-1 victory in the reverse fixture (Nov 2017) but the Slovakians got the better of them in Portadown, winning 1-0.
The game against Slovakia was a special occasion for defender Julie Nelson, who won her 100thcap and became Northern Ireland’s first female centurion.
The return of experienced campaigners Sarah McFadden and Demi Vance helped to bolster the squad in 2018, while the introduction of a crop of talented younger players into the senior panel should help to make the team more competitive going forward.
Young goalkeeper Lauren Perry and midfielder Megan Bell both looked at home in senior circles, while Emily Wilson, Louise McDaniel, Emma McMaster and Rebecca McKenna are also good prospects.