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Thursday 06 Apr 2023
Senior women’s team ‘focused’ ahead of friendly against Wales

Interim Northern Ireland senior women’s team boss Andy Waterworth insists his players will be focused when they face Wales in an international friendly in Cardiff this evening.

Waterworth, who is Head of Elite Player Development at the Irish Football Association, is acting as the interim manager following the departure of Kenny Shiels earlier this year.

He said he has been impressed with the squad’s work ethic in training this week in the lead-up to the encounter against the Welsh.

“They are focused and they know what they have to do,” he told the media yesterday, adding that the players have been “very professional” since meeting up to prepare for the game.

Waterworth, who has coached Northern Ireland youth teams in the past, said he will be both excited and nervous when he takes charge of a senior international team for the first time at the Cardiff City Stadium.

He also revealed selecting the starting eleven has been a bit of a headache as so many players have done well in training.

The interim boss has brought several players back into the fold for the friendly against Wales, including talismanic Bristol City Women attacking midfielder Rachel Furness, who is expected to be given the opportunity to add to her record tally of international goals in a green shirt.

Regular number one Jackie Burns is missing due to injury, which means at least one of the three goalkeepers in the panel will be making a senior debut against the Welsh. Shannon Turner, who was in the squad for last summer’s Euros, is expected to start, however young keepers Maddy Harvey-Clifford and Lilie Woods have done well in training.

The Welsh are ranked 31st in the world compared to Northern Ireland in 45th position, however that will hold no fear for Waterworth’s team. In their last outing they defeated Italy, ranked 16th, in a friendly in Belfast by a goal to nil.

Wales have dubbed the game as a revenge mission. Thanks to a superior head-to-head record in the qualification campaign, Northern Ireland pipped the Welsh for a play-off spot for last year’s Women’s Euros and it still rankles with them.

Waterworth has played that aspect of the contest down, however Wales boss Gemma Grainger says it has provided motivation for her team.

“There is that side to it… it is always nice to re-sit an exam,” she told BBC Wales.

The sides drew 2-2 in Wales and 0-0 in Northern Ireland during the Euro qualifiers and tonight’s game is expected to be another tight affair.

Wales captain Sophie Ingle, who plays for Chelsea in the FA Women’s Super League, pointed out: “It’s a tough opponent. They have been to a major tournament. We had the better goal difference, but we just missed out and we have learned a lot from that. It’s a good chance to test ourselves against a tough team.”

The Welsh, who enjoyed an unbeaten run at the Pinatar Cup in Spain back in February, have several WSL players in their ranks, including Manchester United trio Safia Middleton-Patel, Hayley Ladd and Chloe Williams (currently on loan at Blackburn Rovers), Liverpool pair Rhiannon Roberts and Ceri Holland plus Tottenham Hotspur’s Angharad James and Esther Morgan (on loan at Sunderland).

Also in their squad is experienced attacking midfielder Jess Fishlock, who plays for Seattle-based OL Reign in the US. She has scored 31 times during her 119 appearances for Wales.

Tonight’s game will also act as a farewell to Wales stalwart and record goalscorer Helen Ward, who announced her international retirement last month. The 36-year-old won 105 caps and scored 44 goals for her country. There will be a special presentation to her during the half-time interval.

The international challenge match kicks off at 7.15 and is being shown live on BBC iPlayer.