‘Our belief helped us qualify for Euro finals’

Northern Ireland Women’s record appearance maker, Julie Nelson, believes a change in mentality has helped Kenny Shiels’ side qualify for the Euro 2022 finals.

The Larne native, who has amassed 116 caps for the Northern Irish Women’s team since her debut in 2004, was a key part of her country’s qualifying campaign for next summer’s tournament in England

Julie (35), who has played for clubs in Iceland, England and Scotland, currently is in her second spell at Crusaders Strikers FC.

The central defender believes that the women’s game is improving in Northern Ireland and last week’s qualification for the European finals after a two-legged play-off victory over Ukraine can help make it stronger.

Julie Nelson. pic by Stephen Hamilton/Presseye.

Speaking to the Times, she said: “Last week’s qualification is only starting to sink in. I don’t think it will feel real until the groups are announced and we are in the build-up to the tournament.

“We know that whovever we get in the group, all games will be big games. If we drew England, we’d be playing our opening match at Old Trafford. It would be massive.

“I made my debut for Northern Ireland in 2004 after the team had been reformed after a few years of there not being a women’s side. At that stage I don’t think qualification for a major tournament was on the horizon.

“We were going into games hoping we didn’t lose. Over the past 18 months there has been a change in mentality.

“A combination of Kenny (Shiels) and his coaching panel, together with a new attitude from players, has helped us reach the Euros. He has rejuvinated the squad and there is now a sense of belief. We are now going into games hoping to win.

“Norway played some exceptional football in the qualifiers and deservedly topped the group. We realised we could challenge for a place at next year’s tournament after the results we got against Wales.”

The women’s side suffered a number of injury blows throughout the campaign. Most recently Liverpool FC’s, Rachel Furness, sustained a broken ankle during the first leg of the play-off tie.

Explaining how these set-backs helped push Northern Ireland over the finishing line, Julie added: “Over the last year we have had a lot of injuries. We wanted to do our best for the players who were on the sidelines.

“We also know how the men’s team enjoyed such a huge following when they qualified for the Euro 2016 finals in France and what it did for the country. Supporters clubs, who would generally follow the men’s team, have already said they plan to travel to England for our games, so it would be brilliant to see the Green and White Army cheering us on.

“I started playing football in Larne when I was 11. I’ve been lucky to represent my country, travel and make friends through football and I’d urge any girls wanting to get involved to give it a go.”

In 2018 the then Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Lindsay Millar, hosted a reception for Julie and her family to celebrate Julie gaining her 100th international cap.

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