Furness says prospect of a major tournament for Northern Ireland feels 'surreal'

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28:  The stage is seen ahead of the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 Final Draw Ceremony on October 28, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28: The stage is seen ahead of the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 Final Draw Ceremony on October 28, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Northern Ireland's Rachel Furness was feeling star-struck after drawing hosts England for next summer’s EURO 2022 - even though it was her on the red carpet, writes Rachel Steinberg.

Kenny Shiels's side don't have far to travel but their first major tournament feels worlds away from the current reality for a squad packed with part-time players.

Furness and her teammates have embraced their underdog status, though all the attention might still take some getting used to.

“It was just a bit surreal,” said Furness of the draw held in Manchester.

“All the media wanted to speak to us, and normally I’m at home watching this as a fan.

"I probably will pinch myself up until I walk out for Northern Ireland in the Euros, but it’s just a great experience and it’s great exposure for Northern Ireland as a country, and hopefully it puts us on the map.”

The full schedule for Euro 2022.
The full schedule for Euro 2022.

The loudest cheer of the night came when Furness’ squad were drawn with the Lionesses, who hit them for six without reply in a friendly in February.

Many questioned if the debutants would find themselves intimidated but Furness, who was born in Sunderland, insisted the close geographical rivalry is a date with destiny.

She said: “It’s kind of written in the stars. I think when the teams were coming out me and my friend sitting next to me said ‘we’re going to get England.’

“I think there’s just got to be excitement. I think we’re going to impact stadiums and the pressure’s on the host nation.

“I just think it’s real buzz going ahead now we know who we’ve got.

“I know when I watch football you always want the underdog to do well, so I hope we do get a lot more fans supporting us, and if they’re not supporting England they’re supporting the underdogs in Northern Ireland.”

The draw for Euro 2022
The draw for Euro 2022

Manager Shiels believes plans to turn the squad full-time for “five to six months” will give a huge boost to their hopes of competing.

The former Kilmarnock boss acknowledged his side might be taken likely by their Group A opponents, but won't look past their opener against Norway on 7 July.

Shiels said said: “The happiest people here tonight are the English, Norwegians and Austrians.

“The English people are cheering saying 'we've got Northern Ireland' and it's an easy match for them, but we've got to try and do our best in the first game, and then think about the second one, then think about the third."

UEFA Women’s EURO England 2022 ticket ballot application window is now open and closes 16 November. For more information and to enter the public ballot for tickets, visit www.uefa.com/womenseuro/ticketing

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