“Whether it’s futsal or football, the pride is still there and I still give you butterflies and goosebumps.”
While headlines surrounding women’s football in Northern Ireland have focused on the senior team’s historic qualification for the finals of Euro 2022 this summer, there is hope and optimism that the futsal side can continue to make history.
Louise McFrederick, who represented Northern Ireland at U19 level, has been heavily involved in the country’s futsal team, which is the only home nation to have a women’s team.
“It’s a big deal for me, I’m fully aware that I will never represent the senior NI team,” said the Linfield defenseman.
“You get your cap, you wear the same types of jerseys, you sing the national anthem before games — it gives you the same buzz.”
Founded just four years ago, the Northern Ireland women’s futsal team fell just two points short of their last European qualifying tournament in Serbia.
They suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat by the hosts in the opening game, with a controversial unrecognized goal preventing them against the odds from achieving a result, while they lost 2-0 to top-seeded Netherlands in the second game.
However, in their last game they defeated Latvia 4-1, with Beth McKay scoring a brace on top of goals from Olivia Brown and Jessica Rea to take third place in the group.
While Northern Ireland failed to reach the next stage, McFrederick has no doubts about the progress made.
“Last year we played against Serbia and lost 4-1 but this time we really should have gotten a result,” said McFrederick, who described futsal as “a mix of football, basketball and Olympic handball”.
“The result showed how far we have come within a year.
“We were obviously disappointed against the Netherlands but when we spoke to them they were very frustrated with how well we played and apparently their coaches left them out after the game because they expected to beat us.
“It was a really good performance against Latvia and we were unlucky that it wasn’t more. It was the biggest win we’ve ever had and everyone was happy for the climax.”
Euro 2022 overlaps
While McFrederick admits she will never make Northern Ireland’s senior team, the country’s futsal squad is certainly not short of talent, from veteran players to rising stars.
Nadene Caldwell, Abbie Magee, Sam Kelly and Kerry Beattie, all regulars in Kenny Shiels’ senior squad, have made their way to the NI futsal team ahead of their full-time training camp ahead of Euro 2022.
“Deano [Caldwell] was there from the start but now they’re in the senior lineup ahead of the Euros and can’t make the crossover,” said McFrederick.
“They had to step down for now but hopefully they will be back in the future. From talking to them they all loved it and it was a really good thing to be a part of.
“Abbie actually texted me to say she was disappointed she couldn’t go. It shows that there is a nice crossover between the two sports.”
While the crossover has its positive sides for both rules of the game, it also shows where Northern Ireland could fall behind the futsal leaders.
Northern Ireland has a national futsal league that is played in the Women’s Premiership off-season, but McFrederick says it is “played mainly for fun”.
“We are all 11v11 players but all the nations you play against play futsal regularly and almost all have a professional league in their country.
“That’s the standard you’re up against. On the other hand, we’re all 11v11 players trying to adapt.”
Qualification is possible
After missing out in Serbia, McFrederick believes qualification is possible ‘in the next year or two’ despite the team only being formed in 2018.
The 28-year-old adds that reaching a major tournament with the futsal squad “would mean as much” as the senior team qualifying for Euro 2022.
“Like I said, I will never make the Northern Ireland senior team. We all know how difficult it is to qualify for big tournaments when you’re playing against teams like the Netherlands or the top nations.
“It gets better every year. If we look at our performances and results, it’s very obvious that we can qualify at some point.
“We’ve only been playing for four years, while many teams have been playing since they were kids. We’re playing to catch up, but it’s a goal and it’s very realistic.”