Northern Ireland Women captain Marissa Callaghan has spoken up in support of manager Kenny Shiels after he caused controversy this week by saying “women are more emotional than men”.
Shiels was speaking in the wake of Northern Ireland’s 5-0 World Cup qualifying defeat at home to England on Tuesday night when explaining why he felt his side too often conceded goals in quick succession.
The comments attracted criticism from pundits, former players and politicians, and overshadowed a night on which a record crowd of 15,348 had travelled to Windsor Park to watch the match.
Shiels apologised for his remarks on Wednesday.
A day later, Callaghan issued a statement on social media in which she said she spoke for the squad as a whole.
“In light of recent events, collectively we stand by our manager,” Callaghan wrote.
“We feel his interview was in relation to a meeting we had as a team where we analysed that we concede goals in quick succession and emotions was one of the many things we discussed.
“Since Kenny took over our national team three years ago, I have always complimented him publicly on how he can get the best out of his players individually and collectively. He is a man of integrity who cares for us like a family.”
Shiels has enjoyed much success since taking charge of Northern Ireland in 2019, with the former Kilmarnock boss guiding them to qualification for this summer’s European Championships and winning 10 of his 18 games in charge.
But two of his five defeats have come in the last week as losses to Austria and England effectively ended hopes of reaching next year’s World Cup.
On Tuesday, Northern Ireland conceded four goals inside 27 second-half minutes as their resistance to England crumbled, prompting Shiels to say: “I’m sure you will have noticed if you go through the patterns – when a team concedes a goal, they concede a second one in a very, very short space of time.
“[It happens] right through the whole spectrum of the women’s game, because girls and women are more emotional than men. So, they take a goal going in not very well.”
But Callaghan, who coaches alongside playing for Cliftonville Ladies, credited Shiels with instilling the belief in Northern Ireland’s players that has brought their recent success.
“Kenny has transformed the game here in Northern Ireland because he understands how to get the best out of his players. We have qualified for a major tournament because he transformed our mindset,” the 36-year-old added.
“We look forward to the next few months as we continue to prepare for the Euros this summer.
“Selling out the National Stadium has been a pivotal moment for the game here in NI and we as players and staff will continue as a team to help grow the game and inspire the next generation of young players and fans.”