Sign up to the Irish FA Newsletter today

Keep up-to-date with all the latest news from the Irish FA including ticket updates, match information, competitions, articles and much more.
Thank you

Thursday 29 Dec 2022
Northern Ireland senior women’s team – review of the year (Part 1)

It was an historic year for the Northern Ireland senior women’s team in 2022. Not only did they make their first appearance at a major tournament, they also registered a record points haul in a qualification campaign.

The year of the Euros began with a set of friendlies followed by FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifiers followed by another friendly.

The main focus in January, however, was the full-time training programme for Northern Ireland-based players and how that would unfold in the run-up to UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 in July.

February brought the players involved in the training camp and professional players with clubs in England, Scotland and elsewhere together for the first time.

Kenny Shiels’ side played three friendlies during a 10-day camp at the Marbella Football Centre on Spain’s Costa Del Sol.

They were not fully recognised international matches – no caps were awarded to the players taking part in the games – but they certainly served a purpose in terms of boosting Euros preparations. The team enjoyed a 3-1 win over Faroe Islands followed by a 2-2 draw with Switzerland and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Romania.

Next up were two key FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifiers in April – against Austria away and then England at home.

Shiels’ charges never really got going against the Austrians, who won 3-1 to move three points ahead of them in European Qualifying Group D with three games in the qualifying series to go.

Goals from Austria captain Carina Wenninger, Nicole Billa and Barbara Dunst put the home side well on top before substitute Joely Andrews fired home a late consolation for the visitors in Wiener Neustadt.

It was then back to Belfast for a meeting with group leaders England.

And unfortunately the ruthless Lionesses swept Northern Ireland aside at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

Two goals apiece from Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway, plus another from Ella Toone, saw Sarina Wiegman’s team seal a comfortable 5-0 victory in front of a record crowd of 15,348.

It was backs to the wall for Northern Ireland for much of the 90-plus minutes as England launched attack after attack and cemented their place at the top of Group D.

The result, coupled with Austria’s demolition of Latvia the same night, meant Northern Ireland’s very slim chance of reaching a World Cup play-off had gone.

Northern Ireland’s next match was a friendly against Belgium in June ahead of the Euros. Then it was off to England for a big, big adventure – and the small matter of matches against Norway, Austria and the tournament hosts. The team’s exploits at the tournament are documented in the second part of this review.

Shiels’ side suffered a 4-1 defeat against Belgium in their final warm-up match before the Euros.

They played the last 20 minutes of the friendly in Lier with 10 players after goalkeeper Jackie Burns was given her marching orders.

And the game stood at 1-1 until the final 10 minutes when the Red Flames piled on the pressure and scored three late goals.

Captain Tessa Wullaert opened the scoring for Belgium midway through the first half before Northern Ireland equalised a minute into added time at the end of the first half thanks to a sweet strike from Lauren Wade.

After Burns was red-carded Belgium regained the lead on 82 minutes through substitute Ella Van Kerkhoven. Minutes later it was 3-1 when Wullaert got her second, while Northern Ireland defender Laura Rafferty scored an own goal as the final whistle approached.

Following their Euros adventure Northern Ireland got back to winning ways with a narrow 2-1 victory over Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifier in early September.

Second half goals from Sarah McFadden and Rebecca McKenna were enough to secure all three points.

The win meant Northern Ireland finished third behind England and Austria in European Group D in the qualifiers for next year’s global tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

The result also meant Northern Ireland tasted victory again after their six defeats in a row against top tier teams in the run-up to and at UEFA Women’s Euro 2022.

Four days later Northern Ireland had to come from behind to secure a 3-1 win against Latvia in their final World Cup qualifier.

Amazingly all three of Northern Ireland’s goals were scored by the opposition. Latvia keeper Enija-Anna Vaivode notched two of them, while the other was netted by defender Arta Luize Lubina.

The victory meant Kenny Shiels’ side created history. It brought their points tally to 19 – a record haul for a qualification campaign involving the senior women’s team.

His team rounded off the year with a fine 1-0 victory over Italy in a friendly at a packed Seaview in mid-November.

Centre back Sarah McFadden, winning her 95th cap, scored the only goal of the game.

The Northern Ireland boss believes taking on stronger opponents is key to his players making further progress and they were more than up for the challenge against the Italians, who are ranked 14th in the world compared to Northern Ireland in 49th .