A joyous moment for Northern Ireland football and for women’s sport

News Letter editorial of Thursday April 15 2021:

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 8:00 am
News Letter editorial

Northern Ireland woke up yesterday to a mood of joy after the women’s national football team qualified for the European Championships in England next year.

It was an unexpected victory.

The team only re-formed in 2004, entering the Fifa world rankings at number 84. By last year they were in the top 50.

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Even so the odds are stacked against the Northern Ireland women’s soccer team. They are representing a country that is very small by international standards, with a population of a mere 1.8 million people.

As a consequence, they play against national teams of much larger countries, where the players are professionals.

In NI, they are part timers.

As the midfielder Sarah McFadden said yesterday: “We make a lot of sacrifices all of us. I’ve got a three-year-old who I leave at home for 10 days.”

All the hard work and training under the team’s inspirational coach Kenny Shiels has paid off.

It was a wonderful moment to see this Northern Ireland team celebrating their triumph.

The NI men’s teams have provided similar moments of joy over the decades, qualifying for the world cups of 1958, 1982 and 1986, as well as the Euros of 2016.

This latest triumph is a huge boost for female sports in general in the Province, and comes at a time when there is a great focus on the importance of developing sport among children of both sexes.

It has also happened towards the end of a lockdown that — many people in the sporting world fear — has allowed school pupils to fall out of the habit of sport and exercise, and all of the social and physical benefits that it can bring.

There has been much talk about a sports museum for Northern Ireland. It is an excellent idea, and would be a fine tourist attraction. If if comes to fruition, Tuesday night will be one of the milestone moments for such a venue to record and explain.

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Alistair Bushe