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Marissa Callaghan: Northern Ireland are not at Euro 2022 to catch up on numbers

Captain Marissa Callaghan insists Northern Ireland are not at Euro 2022 to “make up numbers” as she prepares to lead her country into their first major tournament.

The veteran Cliftonville midfielder has declared fit and ready for Thursday night’s historic clash against Norway in Southampton after quickly recovering from a fractured foot bone.

By far the lowest-placed team in the 16-nation tournament, Northern Ireland are massive underdogs emerging from a group that also includes Austria and hosts England.

But on the eve of the biggest game of her career, Callaghan dismissed suggestions that an early exit was inevitable.

“We go out of every game believing that we can win it, you have to,” said the 36-year-old. “We are footballers, we want to do our best.

“You can’t go into a game and think, ‘This is going to be tough, they’re going to beat us.’

“It’s always been our path coming from Kenny (Shiels, manager) that we’re preparing to win every single game. That’s going to be the mindset we’re going out with tomorrow.

“Obviously we know exactly how tough this challenge is going to be, we know the caliber of the players and teams we’re up against.

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Callaghan has declared himself fit for Thursday’s opener (Liam McBurney/PA)

“But we’re here, we’re in the top 16 teams in Europe and we’re here to create excitement and we’re not just here to make up numbers.”

Callaghan was provided with an honor guard by teammates before practice at St Mary’s on Wednesday afternoon.

She sometimes feared that an injury could deprive her of an emotional, landmark moment before she overcomes physical and mental barriers to compete.

Callaghan struggled to find opportunities to play football as a child and has witnessed firsthand the rapid growth of women’s football in recent years.

“I’m so proud, so honored,” she said. “It’s a dream come true for every little girl to lead her country and lead her country. I still have to pinch myself that it’s my title.

“We’ve had this incredible journey and this is the climax, we all worked hard for it, it almost exceeded our wildest dreams.

“When we were young we had to play with the boys or play on the street and force almost anywhere to play the game.

“Well, fast forward, the possibilities are endless and just recently at Windsor (Park) we had almost 16,000 fans there.

“Nothing would stop me from coming here.”

Northern Ireland are expected to be supported by a sizeable travel contingent for their three Group A games on the south coast.

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Kenny Shiels guided Northern Ireland to Euro 2022 (Liam McBurney/PA)

Manager Shiels, who confirmed he currently has a full squad, vowed to continue with the football that secured qualification rather than take a more pragmatic approach against impressive opposition.

“We play as we are,” said the 66-year-old. “That success brought us here.

“I tell the girls all the time, ‘Fear of failure is failure’ and we work through the template. We must not be afraid of other football teams we play against.

“We need composure, we need to be able to maneuver their expression the way they want to perform and how they want to play, we can’t mess with that in any way.”

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Norway, coached by Sweden’s Martin Sjogren, is a two-time European champion after winning the competition in 1987 and 1993 (John Walton/PA)

Norway’s talented squad includes players such as Barcelona striker Caroline Graham Hansen – who scored a hat-trick against Northern Ireland in qualifying – and 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg.

Manager Martin Sjogren is confident of a strong start to the competition.

“The preparations were good, I think we’re well prepared,” said the 45-year-old Swede. “We had a clear plan and waited a long time for this championship.

“Northern Ireland’s greatest strength is that they fight for each other 110 per cent but we hope we can dominate with our attacking play.”

https://www.independent.ie/sport/marissa-callaghan-northern-ireland-are-not-at-euro-2022-to-make-up-numbers-41819521.html Marissa Callaghan: Northern Ireland are not at Euro 2022 to catch up on numbers

Fry Electronics Team

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