Dan McNamara: Wolves manager to miss Women's National League play-off final for RAF duty

By Harry PooleBBC Sport
Wolves Women manager Dan McNamara
Wolves finished eight points clear of closest challengers Derby County after winning 18 of their 24 league games
Women's National League play-off final: Southampton FC v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Venue: Edgeley Park Date: Saturday 21 May, 15:00 BST
Coverage: Watch on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website and the BBC Sport app.

Missing the biggest match in your club's history would be unthinkable for any manager.

But for Dan McNamara, duty calls.

Having guided Wolverhampton Wanderers Women to the National League Northern Premier title, his side are preparing to face Southern Premier champions Southampton FC for a place in the second tier.

However, the match coincides with the Royal Air Force Corporal undertaking a mission at an undisclosed destination.

The aircraft technician will still be able to follow his side from afar - just as he did last week as his side won the Birmingham County Cup, beating West Brom in the final.

"One thing you'll never take away from me is being able to follow the girls. It is not something I would ever allow to happen and it will be the same this Saturday," McNamara tells BBC Sport.

"The club have been fantastic and they have helped me deal with a really emotional time. I was provided with a private stream for the cup final and I was in contact with the bench. That will happen again this weekend."

Saturday's play-off final offers the chance to secure an unprecedented promotion for his side to the Championship - as well as the opportunity for the players to become paid professionals.

The "considerable" time difference has proven the greatest hurdle as the Wolves boss attempts to keep in touch with his staff and players around training to ensure final preparations run smoothly.

"Seeing the success the girls have had the last two weeks is really tough to watch because I want to be there, sharing those moments with them. That's why Saturday will be one of the most difficult days of my life," he says.

"I've had some nice messages, like 'that one was for you' after the cup final. The players have turned it into a positive. They know how much it means to me but they know they don't need me this weekend to have success."

Wolves Women manager Dan McNamara
Dan McNamara is also the head coach of the UK Armed Forces women's team

The Wolves coach, who has 14 years of military service behind him, was informed in January that he would miss this key period of the season but initially chose to keep the news from his players to allow them to focus on their football.

"At first you park it. In January, no one thought we would be in this position and it was easy to deal with in that moment," he said.

"But as the wins kept coming, it started to become more emotive for me. A few weeks before I was due to leave, I had to sit the girls down. I had become more emotional and I wasn't the same around training.

"As staff, we all decided hiding it probably wasn't the best thing to do because, after all I've been through with the squad, I probably deserved to enjoy our last few weeks together."

It worked. Wolves, promoted a year ago, clinched the title with three games remaining.

His final home game in April proved a fitting send off as they played a competitive match at Molineux for the first time in 20 years, lifting the league trophy in front of 2,477 fans.

It comes after the club was twice denied league titles in 2019-20 and 2020-21 as successive seasons were declared null and void because of the Covid pandemic - though Wolves were eventually promoted via the Football Association's "upward movement" initiative last summer.

Now Southern Premier champions Southampton FC - who, like Wolves, suffered a single league defeat all season - stand in their way.

"It is just amazing what the girls have achieved," said McNamara, who was appointed in 2018. "We set out to stay in the division. That was truly what we wanted to do.

"It doesn't shock me what we have achieved but it is far beyond what we ever dreamt of.

"Time after time, we got hurt. We had league titles and finals taken away from us, but throughout this season the team has displayed a never-say-die attitude."

Wolverhampton Wanderers Women celebrate winning the County Cup
Wolverhampton Wanderers came from a goal down to beat West Brom 4-1 in the County Cup final at Walsall's Banks's Stadium

McNamara, who is set to return home in early August, says he is already looking forward to beginning another campaign "whatever next season looks like".

His task could look very different depending on the outcome at Stockport County's Edgeley Park, with relegated Women's Super League side Birmingham City among next term's potential Championship opposition.

"It will be tough. Southampton are massive, massive favourites," said McNamara.

"Just being asked what it would mean makes me a bit emotional because I won't be able to be there to show people how much it means.

"Am I confident? Absolutely. I would never doubt this group, I would never doubt their ability to find a way to win.

"We have used the phrase all season - 'dreaming is for free' - and we will carry that with us into Saturday."