Kenny Shiels has made sure that Northern Ireland’s missing stars still feel part of the squad by declaring that he wants to secure Women’s Euro 2022 qualification for those on an ever-growing injury list.
nd one of those players, Rangers Women’s Demi Vance, claims that attitude of togetherness is what has taken the team to the brink of a first major tournament in their history.
Vance is one of six players who will miss the two-legged play-off against Ukraine after she suffered a heartbreaking cruciate ligament tear in the penultimate group game against Belarus back in December.
Glentoran Women’s Caragh Hamilton suffered the same injury just a few weeks prior, Vance’s Ibrox team-mate Megan Bell hasn’t played international football for a year and three more players – Lauren Wade, Abbie Magee and Caitlin McGuinness – all joined the list of absentees as the play-off games approached.
“Never before in my lifetime have I experienced having six out, four of them having operations,” said Shiels.
“We have something now to work for, to get to this for them. We want to do it for them now. We want to create an opportunity for them when they come back that they are straight into the finals.
“Wouldn’t that be brilliant? Wouldn’t that be an unbelievable present that we could give those girls?”
That would be the dream ticket for Vance after the nightmare of suffering the injury that every footballer fears.
Thoughts of playing at the Women’s Euro finals in England next summer were the furthest thing from her mind four months ago. The way that her team-mates have rallied around her and Shiels’ example of how much he cares as much about those who can’t play as those he will select to face Ukraine is, according to Vance, what has taken the team this far – and can take them the final step too.
“It just shows that Kenny is so passionate about the women’s game and he is so passionate about the group of girls that he has,” said Vance.
“It’s so nice to see that it means so much to him, and for the girls it means exactly the same.
“With all of us fighting together, we have got this far. He wants to do it for the injured players, but we want to do it for him and we want it so much. I think that’s why we are in this position, because we are all fighting for it.”
It’s possibly Vance’s lively personality that makes Shiels and her team-mates want to keep her involved, as she said: “I think they keep me in the WhatsApp group because I just say things. I keep telling them they can’t throw me out of the WhatsApp group because it would be so boring without me.
“All the injured players have been down and around the squad, but I don’t think we gave him a choice really, we just kind of showed up to training.”