Last week saw Northern Ireland’s women’s team seal qualification to the 2022 European Championships, the first time the country has reached the finals of a major competition in its history.
This seemed an impossible task back in 2004 when the women’s national team had only just reformed after being disbanded at the turn of the century, they have never looked back since.
They sealed qualification with a 4-1 aggregate victory over 31st ranked side Ukraine in the play offs.
However, it wasn’t as plain sailing for the Republic of Ireland.
Knocked out of the group phase and finishing two points behind Ukraine, it was a disappointing campaign for the women in green.
A play off showdown between the two Irish outfits would’ve been on the cards if the Republic had managed to sneak past Ukraine into that second place behind Germany, who won the group convincingly, but it wasn’t to be.
One positive note for the Republic though was that captain Katie McCabe completed her 50th cap at the age of just 25.
“I’m very proud to reach 50 senior caps with the Republic of Ireland,” she said.
“I cannot describe the pride that I have in representing my country and it is something that I will never take for granted.
“Of course, I have to thank all of the people who helped me to reach this point. The different managers – Sue Ronan, Colin Bell, Tom O’Connor and Vera Pauw – all of the backroom staff through the years, every one of my team-mates…past and present, and the Irish supporters who have been incredible throughout my international career to date.”
Katie was given the captaincy role when she turned 21 and has been a mainstay in an improving Irish side and also in an Arsenal side that currently battles at the top of the WSL.
The next challenge for both Northern and Republic of Ireland will be gaining qualification to the next major tournament – and Katie is relishing the opportunity.
“We will continue with our preparations for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and that is something that really motivates me because being part of the first Ireland team to qualify is the dream.”
World Cup qualifying gets underway in September of this year with the draw for the group stages taking place on the April 30.
The tournament is due to be held in Australia and New Zealand and both national sides eager to make their World Cup bows.
This could be an historical part of both nations’ journeys to reach the summit of international football. A Euro campaign for Northern Ireland will be a monumental occasion for their players, staff and supporters and will attempt to make even more history.
Euro 2022 will be held in England so there is added pressure for a home nation to showcase why they deserve that place with the other 15 countries.
McCabe’s Ireland side will be forced to sit back and watch their compatriots compete in a a tournament that they could only dream of.