Kenny Shiels refuses to criticise Hege Riise after Northern Ireland Team GB snub

Kenny Shiels says it would have been “nice” if there was Northern Ireland representation in Great Britain’s Olympics squad but has stressed the need to be respectful of Hege Riise’s judgement.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 7:30 am

Riise’s 18-player GB squad for this summer’s Tokyo Games features 15 England internationals, two Scots and one Welsh player, while the four reserves are also English.

The announcement of the selection last month came six weeks on from Northern Ireland securing a place in the finals of a major tournament for the first time as they beat Ukraine in their Euro 2022 play-off.

Riise, when the squad was announced, said no Northern Ireland player had been close to selection as she emphasised tournament experience.

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Northern Ireland senior women’s manager Kenny Shiels. Pic by Pacemaker.

Northern Ireland boss Shiels said: “Everybody’s got an opinion and who am I to be critical of that? It doesn’t matter to me and I don’t think it matters to the girls much.

“It would have been nice, but you have to respect the people that are picking players on what they see. Who am I to criticise their evaluation of that?”

Northern Ireland midfielder Rachel Furness last month after the GB squad announcement told the BBC: “I don’t think we’ve been looked at and respected enough as a nation to even be considered.”

When asked about that, Shiels said: “I don’t think she meant any harm by that. It was more of a statement to give our players motivation. I can understand that.

“In the four nations of GB, England are the best team, so it’s only natural that they’ll have the bulk of the best players.

“What you have to do is be respectful that they’ve got a job to do to pick a team that they think will give the best chance of bringing some medals back.”

Northern Ireland defender Julie Nelson said: “We know the players that have been picked. They are all top-quality players and they are playing for top teams in England.

“It’s up to the coach to pick the squad.

“I’m sure some of our girls were disappointed they didn’t get on the list.

“But our main focus is on Northern Ireland, and we wish the GB team that goes to represent all the best heading into the summer, and we’ll all be behind them.”

Shiels, whose side were beaten 6-0 by England in February in the Lionesses’ first match with Riise as interim boss, and Nelson were speaking at a press conference ahead of today’s friendly against Scotland at Seaview.

The Scots, 25 places higher than Northern Ireland in the world rankings at 23rd, failed to qualify for next year’s England-hosted Euros. Boss Shelley Kerr subsequently stepped down and they currently have Stuart McLaren in interim charge.

Shiels – who says Northern Ireland are “sort of down to the bare bones again”, with several players missing due to injury – said: “Scotland have got really good players. (Not qualifying for the Euros) is a sore blow for them.

“When they look at little us and see we’ve qualified, they will certainly be out to do us over, I’m sure, they’ll be very motivated in that and will want to prove things.

“They don’t have to, but that’s human nature.

“I looked at the squad and they have 21 full-time professionals out of 23 players. They’re going to have a lot of favouritism in terms of who’s going to win.

“But I don’t look at who’s going to win. I want to know, in friendlies, how the girls are improving...I want to see them getting better.”

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