Northern Ireland women’s team close to securing historic Euros qualification
Laura Rafferty says team looking forward to getting the job done against Ukraine
Northern Ireland’s Laura Rafferty in training ahead of their clash with Ukraine. Photograph: William Cherry/Inpho
Laura Rafferty has spoken of the emotion she felt after returning to the Northern Ireland squad as the girls in green and white look to make history by qualifying for Euro 2022.
The 24-year-old has battled back to fitness following a serious knee injury sustained on the eve of boss Kenny Shiels’ first-ever squad announcement 19 months ago.
The timing meant Rafferty missed the entire qualification campaign but she made her return to the international scene last week as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 win over Ukraine in the first leg of their Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 play-off.
Rafferty admitted to being emotional when she replaced Sarah McFadden after 79 minutes in Ukraine.
“My reaction definitely showed that,” she said. “Apart from my first [call-up], it was the most special I’ve had.
“From the position where I was, to being back with everyone now is the biggest blessing I could have dreamed of. It’s made everything worthwhile, that’s for sure.”
Northern Ireland can reach a first-ever major tournament if they avoid defeat against Ukraine in the second leg in Belfast on Tuesday night.
Rafferty insists the whole squad are focused on completing the job at Seaview.
“Everybody has a role to play, and we need to go and get this done for Northern Ireland,” said Rafferty, who is on loan at Bristol City from Brighton in the FA Women’s Super League.
“We’re looking forward to it now. I think Ukraine will come at us but we’re preparing very well, and we have total belief in the coaching staff, and they have total belief in us players that we’ll implement their plans on the night.
“We have to go out and hold our heads high. This game means a lot to every single one of us and I know for the fans at home, as well as for family and friends, it means a lot.
“We’ll enjoy the occasion, but I’ve said it before that pressure makes diamonds so hopefully come the end of the game that will be the case.”