Plans for the Northern Ireland senior women’s team to train full time in preparation for UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 in England next summer were presented to MLAs and Ministers at Stormont yesterday.
At a reception event entitled A New Dream, hosted by UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, representatives from across the political spectrum gathered to meet members of Kenny Shiels’ squad and pledge their support for the team moving from their current part-time status to train on a full-time basis from January next year.
“I was delighted to see so many political parties represented this evening. It shows just how much support there is for these plans and we will talk to Ministers and MLAs in more detail in the coming weeks,” said Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson.
Northern Ireland senior women’s team captain Marissa Callaghan said it was “very special” to get the support of so many at Stormont.
The record caps holder in the team, Julie Nelson, delivered a short speech outlining how transformative the move will be.
She pointed out: “We are on the cusp of something really exciting. Qualifying for the Euros really is a new dream.
“We know that football can inspire people of all ages and this Northern Ireland team has the potential to inspire a new generation of fans and players. Many of the people in the room can help us realise that potential.”
Irish FA President Conrad Kirkwood gave his support to the proposal.
He said: “The remarkable story of our senior women’s international team has been well documented: part-time footballers who defied all the odds to achieve what many people simply didn’t think was possible - a spot at the UEFA Women’s Euros next year.
“The football community in Northern Ireland is excited about women’s football and we at the Irish FA are really excited, too.”
MLAs speaking at the event included Carál NÍ Chuilín (Sinn Fein), Michelle McIlveen (DUP), Justin McNulty (SDLP), Chris Lyttle (Alliance) and Rachel Woods (Green Party).
Jim Allister (TUV) and Claire Sugden (Independent) were also due to speak and were fully supportive but were taken away on assembly business.