Q Radio Sport
Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels has named a 23-strong squad for this month’s Women’s Euro 2022 play-off matches against Ukraine.
Although some regulars are unavailable due to work commitments or missing through injury, the manager has chosen a panel packed full of experienced players for the games in Ukraine on Friday 9 April and Belfast on Tuesday 13 April.
And he also welcomes back two players who have been out of contention for a considerable period of time due to injury – defender Laura Rafferty and defender/midfielder Emma McMaster.
Rafferty, 25 later this month, already has 27 caps for her country. She won the last of them against Republic of Ireland Women in a World Cup qualifier in August 2018.
Since then she has been hampered by injuries – she ruptured a knee ligament in August 2019 – but is now fully fit.
The defender, who began her career at Chelsea, is currently on a season-long loan at Bristol City Women from parent club Brighton and Hove Albion Women, whom she joined in 2017. Both sides play in the top tier of the FA Women’s Super League.
Glentoran player McMaster, who has six senior caps and was a star for Northern Ireland at underage level, sat out the bulk of the 2020 season after suffering a knee ligament injury but has now fully recovered following surgery last September.
The 22-year-old, who made her senior debut in 2016, won the last of her senior caps at the Pinatar Cup tournament in Spain in March 2020.
Prolific striker Kirsty McGuinness (Sion Swifts) and Glens forwards Kerry Beattie and Danielle Maxwell also return to the panel after missing the February friendly defeat against England Women at St George’s Park.
Retaining her place in the squad is Birmingham City Women defender Rebecca Holloway, who made her debut against England. Holloway is a regular for Birmingham in WSL 1.
Missing from the panel is Glentoran's new recruit Lauren Wade, who earlier this week picked up an ankle injury in training that could keep her sidelined for a couple of months, while Rangers Women pair Demi Vance and Megan Bell, plus Glentoran Women forward Caragh Milligan, have long-term injuries.
Linfield Ladies defender Abbie Magee, who put in a fine display against England, is not available for the double header, nor is Kirsty McGuinness’s younger sister Caitlin.
Also missing out this time are three young players who travelled to St George’s Park - goalkeeper Maddy Harvey-Clifford (Crusaders Strikers), defender Ella Haughey (Lisburn Rangers) and striker Casey Howe (who this week joined champions Glentoran from Linfield Ladies).
Northern Ireland reached their first play-off for a major tournament when they pipped Wales to finish runners-up behind Norway in Qualifying Group C for UEFA Women’s Euro 2022. In the group they had four wins, two draws and two defeats.
The first of the two play-off games is being played at the Kolos Stadium, home of Ukraine Premier League club FC Kolos Kovalivka, 60 miles from the capital Kiev. Kick-off time on 9 April is 5pm our time.
The second leg is at Seaview in Belfast on 13 April and the kick-off time is 7.45pm.
The winners of the play-off will take their place at the Women’s European Championship finals in England next summer.
Turning to the men's game -
Ballymena's unbeaten run in the Danske Bank Premiership ended on Friday night when they lost 1-0 at home to Crusaders.
There are five more matches on Saturday including leaders Linfield at bottom club Dungannon in the late kick-off.
At 3pm Coleraine host Glenavon, Glentoran have Portadown, Larne take on Carrick and Warrenpoint welcome Cliftonville.
Derry City are in action Saturday evening, against Waterford in a League of Ireland game at the Brandywell.