Experience key for Hege Riise as Northern Ireland players miss GB Olympic cut

Hege Riise has revealed no Northern Ireland players were close to selection for the Great Britain squad that will travel to the Tokyo Olympics this summer as she emphasised major tournament experience.

The Team GB manager and England interim boss on Thursday named an 18-strong squad that included 15 England players, two Scots and one Wales player, but no member of the Northern Ireland team that recently secured an historic qualification for Euro 2022.

The four reserves are all England internationals.

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While Northern Ireland will make their major tournament debut next summer, the lack of experience in the squad counted against them now.

“I’m very happy and glad they qualified for the Euros,” Riise said. “It will give them more tournament experience.

“The players weren’t close to the team. They will grow as a nation. For the next Olympics there might be Northern Ireland players coming into the squad.

“This time they didn’t qualify, I feel.”

Riise, who became England’s interim boss in January after Phil Neville left for Inter Miami, said she had been free to select whichever players she wanted.

NI women’s football win
Northern Ireland secured a first-ever qualification for the European Championships last month (Irish FA handout)

“That was the question I asked and there was no politics in the selection,” she said. “I was free to pick whoever was the best and there’s been a process over a long time now selecting the players.”

England and Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley made the cut despite having made only one international appearance since the 2019 World Cup, with the 36-year-old currently out on loan at OL Reign in the United States.

But Bardsley is notably one of five players in the squad who played at the 2012 Olympics – alongside England colleagues Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, and Ellen White, and Scotland’s Kim Little.

That experience is something Riise – an Olympic champion as a player with Norway in 2000 and as an assistant coach with the United States in 2012 – has emphasised throughout.

“Being in an Olympics is special,” she said. “Having players with experience of it, they can be almost coaches on the field, in training, in the meetings – it is so important.

Manchester City v Chelsea – FA Continental Tyres League Cup – Quarter Final – Academy Stadium
Karen Bardsley is one of five players in the squad who were at the 2012 Olympics (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“When you look at history it is the experienced players that will show the young ones, the inexperienced players, how things work.”

And Riise has been looking to inspire her group by reliving her own memories.

“I went down to the basement to get my Olympic medal to show them, to inspire them,” she said.

“The Sydney Olympics is for me the biggest moment. Not because we were excellent during the whole tournament – there were ups and downs.

“But when it mattered the most in the final we played our best game. That was the message I wanted them to hear because we have only a short time to prepare.

“It will probably not be great football from day one. But if we work hard and believe in what we do, I think we can achieve what we all dream of.”