Northern Ireland Women defender Laura Rafferty says their Euro 2022 second-leg play-off against Ukraine is “everything” as they aim to qualify for their first major tournament.
Northern Ireland take a one-goal lead into the second leg, after Rachel Furness and Simone Magill fired them to a 2-1 victory on Friday.
On Tuesday, they return to Seaview in Belfast for the home leg of a tie that could put this team in the history books, and 24-times-capped Rafferty is relishing the opportunity they are presented with.
“I can’t put into words how big it is but it’s everything,” said Rafferty, who currently plays for Bristol City, on loan from Brighton.
“To represent our country on the biggest stage, being an underdog, going in on our home turf as well.
“It would be amazing to have fans, friends, family, everyone there but we know everyone’s going to be at home backing our corner.
“We are doing it for everyone, whether it’s girls that can’t be there that played a part in the campaign, supported us from the side, and the next generation coming up.”
“There are no words for it. It’s what we’ve dreamed about for years.
“We want the next generation to see the rise in women’s football in Northern Ireland, we want to put our country on the map and really stake our place in the finals.
“It’s everything, and we know Tuesday is massive, but pressure makes diamonds so we are keen to get going. We leave everything on the training pitch, in the meeting rooms, we go out there and express who we really are.”
With two away goals, Northern Ireland are firmly in the driving seat knowing a win or draw will send them to the rescheduled tournament set to take place next summer.
However, Rafferty has warned there is still work to do.
“[The first-leg result] puts a positive spin on things. You’ve got the upper hand. But you can look at it the other way and make sure you don’t throw that [away].
“It’s even more important now because you know that with them being behind, they are going to come out all guns blazing and go for things.
“We need to be confident, we need to understand everything positionally, in terms of what we are going to do.
“You can’t be complacent at all. You have to enjoy this process because it’s somewhere we’ve not been before. So we enjoy it, but we work harder than we’ve ever worked before in anything we’ve ever done.”