Dean Shiels: Northern Ireland Women deserve their Euro 2022 play-off chance
A shot at reaching Euro 2022 is no less than Northern Ireland Women deserve following their remarkable turnaround, according to assistant coach Dean Shiels.Northern Ireland face the Faroe Islands on T
A shot at reaching Euro 2022 is no less than Northern Ireland Women deserve following their remarkable turnaround, according to assistant coach Dean Shiels.
Northern Ireland face the Faroe Islands on Tuesday night, when a victory at Seaview would put them into their first-ever play-off and continue the change of fortunes under Shiels' father Kenny.
When the former Kilmarnock boss took over 18 months ago, Northern Ireland were languishing at 59th in the world rankings and firm outsiders in qualifying Group C, which also includes Norway and Wales.
They took only two points from their opening four games, suffering 6-0 defeats to Norway home and away, but, crucially, taking a point off Wales in both meetings, before a run of three straight wins lifted them to second behind the Norwegians. A win on Tuesday will keep them ahead of third-placed Wales.
"They've worked tirelessly over the winter nights, the cold nights, for these nights coming like this," Shiels said.
"It gives me great satisfaction to see the girls have worked so hard, not just over the last year, but the older players as well, who have put in the work over the years and deserve to have this opportunity."
The new coaching staff suffered one of those 6-0 defeats to Norway in their first game in charge, but, despite the early setbacks, the younger Shiels insists they never doubted their plan - and are now reaping the rewards.
"We were thrown in at the deep end and I think a lot of weaker managers would have crumbled and reverted to type, try to get the ball as far away from the goal as they could," he said.
"We strongly believe as a staff in what we're trying to implement as a style of play and we didn't waver from that for one moment. If you are indecisive as a management group then the players recognise that and that's where the confusion comes in.
"We stuck to the plan. The results didn't come early but, the more we worked with the girls, we had total belief they were good enough to receive the ball in high-pressure areas and play around the press, to play an attacking style of football, and we're starting to see the rewards."
Having beaten the Faroe Islands 6-0 away from home in September, Northern Ireland are firm favourites on home soil. Victory would set up a double-header play-off scheduled for April, with the draw due early next year.
Shiels will be without Demi Vance, whose anterior cruciate ligament injury overshadowed Friday's win over Belarus, but they have goalkeeper Jackie Burns and midfielder Sarah McFadden back from suspension.