Women’s Euro 2022 qualification would be dream come true for Sheffield United and Northern Ireland Women keeper
Helping underdogs Northern Ireland Women qualify for a historic first major tournament would be a dream come true for Sheffield United Women goalkeeper Becky Flaherty.
The Blades stopper, 23, is part of the Green and White Army squad for their Women’s Euro 2022 play-off against Ukraine, with the first leg set to take place on Friday before the return fixture at Seaview in Belfast on Tuesday.
The Ukrainians were ranked twenty-fourth in the latest FIFA World Ranking – 25 places above Northern Ireland - and won 4-0 when the teams met last year.
Kenny Shiels’ side finished above two higher-ranked nations – Belarus and Wales – to reach for the play-off, however.
Six-time capped Flaherty, who qualifies to represent Northern Ireland through her grandparents, said: “If we get a good result away we know what we can do on our home pitch.
"I haven’t given qualification any thought yet because it’s still so far ahead but it would be the highlight of everyone’s career to date. It’s something that is the dream, definitely.”
Next summer’s Euro’s will be staged in England and Bramall Lane is set to host three group games and one semi-final match.
Northern Ireland are battling behind closed doors to be the only home nation to join the Lionesses at the tournament, which was delayed by one year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Flaherty said: “The mood in the camp is always really good and everyone’s really energetic and up for it. It’s always really fun coming into the camp.
"We miss the fans a lot. We noticed it a lot in the last two games how much we missed them.”
The Aberdeen-born former Scotland youth international switched allegiances to Northern Ireland at senior level before making her full international debut against Kazakhstan in March 2019.
She joined Sheffield United Women in August 2019 after spells with girlhood team Liverpool and Everton in the WSL and made 12 appearances in her debut season before a hip injury that required surgery curtailed her progress.
Another injury in pre-season ruled her out until November 2020 and she has been restricted to just one club appearance since her return.
Flaherty, who lives in Sheffield and combines football with work as a lifeguard, said: “It’s been alright this season, we have got some good results but off the back of last year we haven’t achieved as well as what we did but we have been playing some good football.
"I feel because I missed the start of the season it definitely did set me back. It’s been different this year not playing but I’m just doing my best for the team any way I can.”
She added: “We are training every day in camp, you just forget about not playing. Once you get going it comes back to you quite quickly.”
The Blades are currently third in the second tier of women’s football in England. They were second when the 2019/20 season ended prematurely in May 2020 owing to Covid-19.
"With the group of players we have got we could go on next season and do big things,” said Flaherty. “We have got unbelievable talent in that team, there’s nothing we can’t do in that league.
“I’m just going to keep working hard, myself, and see what happens.”