Euro 2021: NI women's players need games before qualifiers resume says manager Kenny Shiels

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland have played four games in Group C of their Euro 2021 qualifiers

Competing at the Pinatar Cup back in March feels like a very long time ago for Kenny Shiels' side who, at the time, were right in the middle of a qualifying campaign for Euro 2021.

As it would happen, that trip to Spain would be the last slice of competitive action Shiels' team would be involved in for the foreseeable future, as coronavirus took its grip across the world.

Fast forward almost four months and with rearranged Euro qualifying fixtures against Faroe Islands and Belarus scheduled for September and October respectively, the former Kilmarnock and Derry City manager says as the lockdown begins to ease, getting his players back to competitive action as soon as possible is key.

"Because of the upcoming qualifiers, I would like the girls to have six games behind them for their physical conditioning and for game conditioning," said Shiels.

"If they don't get that, I'm going to have to work outside the box to get games somewhere.

"That may just be between ourselves, but we have to try and prepare properly and in a professional way.

"We know what's happening in Belarus and what they're doing and they're playing twice a week.

"So, we need to be ready for that and there's no answer to it if you haven't got the capacity to play games.

"You go rusty, no matter what your sport. Ask any sports person, no matter what they play. It's the conditioning that puts you in shape.

"If you prepare for something and you get your body right and you're mentally right, these are the contributing factors that will help you to perform better.

"But, at the moment we have to work with what we've got and work within the restrictions, which we have done and try to improve as much as we can."

Euro qualification still on radar

Northern Ireland are currently sitting fourth in Group C following two defeats and two draws in qualification so far.

With some of their hardest games arguably behind them, two wins in their next two could move them into contention for a runners-up spot.

"We haven't had access to train, while Belarus and the Faroe Islands are playing and training away," Shiels says.

"Every day that goes past, they are improving their game, getting match conditioning and improving their fitness and that's a concern, we want a level playing field.

"It's hard for the girls, it's hard for the coaching staff. We've got to try and make our assessments so that they are within the restrictions of the pandemic and that's very difficult.

"We need more space to play, we need to start getting into more opposed work where we can get the players ready and more tactical work where we prepare for two tough games. It's very, very important that the players are conditioned and ready to go."

Kenny Shiels
Kenny Shiels was interviewed for the vacant NI men's managerial post on Wednesday

In any other year, the players plying their trade in Northern Ireland would be over halfway through their league season, but it was also postponed back in April.

The Northern Ireland Football League says it is still their desire to have a women's Premiership season this year and Shiels stresses that having his players involved in competitive football as soon as possible will be vital to his squad's preparations.

"We are three or four months into this now. It's difficult, they want to get playing," he says.

"It's OK practising and doing drills and passing skills, but they need to be tackling and training with opposition. It's things like that that will help them in their preparation.

"If they are mentally prepared as well, they need to have that, because you just go rusty everywhere.

"Your brain goes rusty, your whole body does. They need to be in a competitive environment because that's the best training ground and that's what they've stayed in the game so long for."