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Mackin’s Euro campaign underway with a win

Richard Bullick

Armagh gaelic scoring machine Aimee Mackin was part of a lethal attack force for the Northern Ireland women’s soccer side as they got their European Championships qualifying campaign underway with a 3-0 away win against Georgia in Tblisi last weekend.

Northern Ireland are some 50 places above their hosts in the world rankings but it was still an impressive victory for Armagh man Alfie Wylie’s girls in green as they embark upon this attempt to emulate their male counterparts by qualifying for the Euro finals for the first time.

Then only 16, Mackin established herself in Wylie’s starting line-up during the last World Cup qualifying campaign when Northern Ireland had difficulty finding the net so last Saturday represented something of a goal-rush.

New captain Julie Nelson, replacing fellow central defender Ashley Hutton, headed home from an Avilla Bergin corner on three minutes to give the visitors the perfect start in their quest to reach the 2017 finals in Holland.

Georgian goalkeeper Nadirashvili produced three good saves, one of them from Mackin, to prevent Northern Ireland adding to their lead but they struck again on 28 minutes when a Nelson free kick hit the crossbar and Tottenham’s Bergin bundled in the rebound.

Bergin also struck the bar before half-time but bagged her second 11 minutes after the resumption following good approach play by Rachel Furness as Northern Ireland’s dominance continued.

Wylie’s women had 19 shots on goal to two from Georgia and although next opponents Switzerland will provide a tougher test, Northern Ireland have home advantage on November 27.

Mackin may well have been joined in the team by Armagh gaelic colleague Aoife Lennon but her Newry City Ladies skipper has opted to take a break from international football.

Meanwhile Mackin’s fellow All Star nominee and Armagh captain Caroline O’Hanlon has also been on her travels, as coach of the Queen’s international ladies side taking part in the Asian Games under Dromintee man Aidan O’Rourke, the Belfast university’s GAA Development Officer.

The Queen’s squad of 12 contained players from no fewer than seven nationalities – including Chinese, Canadian, American, Iranian, Malaysian and German – demonstrating the incredible diversity which currently exists at the university.

This diverse group, many of whom had never played competitive sport before never mind gaelic games, were brought together back in the spring and had the opportunity to work with two legendary ladies of football at Queen’s along with All Ireland winner O’Rourke.

Both O’Hanlon, probably the best ladies gaelic footballer in the world, and QUB’s current captain Fionnuala McKenna couldn’t take part on the field but their experience, expertise and competitive mentality rubbed off on their rookie charges.

Having gone through five months of intensive physical and technical coaching in preparation for Shanghai, the team performed impressively in the tournament’s Intermediate section, defeating Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Beijing before being beaten by eventual winners Japan in the semi-final.