Northern Ireland will host the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship from 8 to 20 August and coach Alfie Wylie has the task of preparing the first team ever from their nation to play in a female final tournament.
Just how tough the task will be was made clear in October when Northern Ireland staged the warm-up Women's International Cup and lost 4-0 to France, 5-0 to England and 3-0 to the United States. Wylie, who also coaches Northern Ireland's senior team, believes the tournament fired the starting gun for the players' preparation as well as giving the WU19 EURO publicity.
He spoke to UEFA.com about the Irish Football Association (IFA)'s ambitions for the finals, which begin just two days after UEFA Women's EURO 2017 ends.
Everybody's working very hard. We've just hosted the International Cup, that was very good. It was a big challenge for us on the pitch, organisationally we were well pleased, not at losing the games but it was a big learning curve for our young team. So everybody's very excited at the chance of hosting a major tournament.
I'm trying to get friendlies and as many games as possible, against teams in the elite round to get us ready for that level of competition. The elite round is normally where we get to so it is new ground to play in the finals. We are looking forward to it with great enthusiasm and a lot of energy has been put into the preparations of the team.
Players' excitement ...
That was the good thing of the International Cup. It had passed them a wee bit by and there was a bit of hype about that tournament, the quality of the teams, the countries that were there. The tournament is going to be twice as big. They have really bought into the fact they have to try really hard and that it will be a special occasion.
The organisers are hoping to get 18,000 at the opening games, if they do that it will be fantastic. We had good crowds in our last games there and we expect good crowds: it's summer nights, it's August, the local domestic league will be closing down so there will be no excuse for anyone not to attend.
It's once in a lifetime for us, we don't qualify for finals. What an opportunity for me as a coach and the players taking part!
Following directly from UEFA Women's EURO 2017 ...
With the finals just before, England and Scotland are there, there's going to be a lot of interest. Women's football will be high profile so there are no excuses for anyone not to know about women's football. It will on TV, all over the press, and ours will be following on from that. It's something we are very exciting about.
Future development ...
What a chance to ... create interest in women's football so we go on to have more girls playing. We only have around 1,000 in the country, if we get more young players into the game then we will have more players to select from – the more seeds you have, the better chance you have for the harvest. Hopefully it's onwards and upwards for Northern Ireland at all levels.
2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers ...
We are usually fourth or fifth seeds so we are going to get tough countries. The first matches are in September so what a fantastic time! For the senior team, this group of U19 players will be the best prepared we've ever had, stepping up to the seniors. Girls will play in the tournament in August and will play senior football in September. That's the plus for us.
— WU19EURO2017 (@WU19EURO2017) December 6, 2016
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