Northern Ireland coach Dean Shiels has been lauded for his work with the NI Women’s team which stands on the brink of qualification for a major tournament for the first time.
DEAN Shiels says that leading the NI Women’s team to a first ever major tournament would rank as among his father Kenny’s greatest achievements.
A bold claim given the successes enjoyed by Kenny at a succession of clubs on both sides of the border and across the water in Scotland.
But, given where the women’s team was when the Maghera man took over, it’s a fair assessment of the impact the former Coleraine, Derry City and Kilmarnock boss has had.
They now stand just one game away from qualifying for next summer’s European Championships in England with a play-off to take place in April.
Dean, 35, who enjoyed a stellar career as a player before hanging up the boots in August 2019, is well placed to judge.
He played under his dad at a number of clubs, including Kilmarnock and Derry City, before joining the NI Womens coaching team following his retirement.
The much travelled midfielder has quickly established a reputation as a progressive coach, with Coleraine born midfielder Chloe McCarron describing him as one of the best she has worked under.
Which should only add encouragement to Dean’s ambitions of one day emulating his father and becoming a manager in his own right.
“That was always the plan,” says Dean, now back at home in Northern Ireland and living in Coleraine.
“I’ll be starting my UEFA Pro Licence in May having finished my A Licence last year.
“It’s a long process but I’m enjoying through the process.
“Everyone has to go through it but thankfully I’m enjoying it at the moment,” he added.
“I’m also loving working with the NI Women. They’re so professional in everything they do and have a great attitude.
“We’re fortunate in that we’re classed as Elite which has meant we have been able to train up until the latest lockdown.
“Hopefully we can get back to it as quickly as possible when the restrictions are eased.”
For so long the poor relations when it came to the international game, Northern Ireland produced a storming finish to their qualifying campaign to put themselves within touching distance of a first ever finals appearance.
Equally remarkably, they have achieved this success by adopting a new way of playing.
“When we came in the girls didn’t have much belief,” continues Dean.
“We worked on changing the style of the way we played and the improvement among the group has been fantastic.
“My dad sets his teams up a particular way where he encourages his centre-backs to get the ball and play through midfield.
“It can lead to mistakes, of course, but we have talented players capable of playing that way and I think our results have shown that.
“I played for my dad a couple of times and we share the same philosophy of how we think the game should be played so it’s a good mix from that point of view.”
Having secured a play-off berth pre Christmas, management and players face an agonising wait to discover their opponents.
The draw is in March with the all important games taking place a month later.
It’s a far from ideal situation for the group, most of whom are based domestically with a small number playing in England.
“It’s a weird one,” agrees Dean.
“It’s a hard one to prepare for and there’s only a small window of preparation.
“Whoever we get, we’ll be going into the game as underdogs but we’ll be prepared as best we can.
“The girls have a lot of self belief now and plenty of momentum from the way they finished the group.
“Winning four games in a row was some achievement for the team and for my dad.
“He’s achieved a lot in his career but I can honestly say that if he was to manage it, leading NI Women to the Euros would be one of his best ever achievements.”