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‘Imagine how good it could be’: Northern Ireland women’s footballers ready to seize their moment

Northern Ireland celebrate after winning 2-0 against Ukraine in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 play-offs in Belfast on April 13, 2021. Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN)Nadene Caldwell doesn’t want to be called an underdog anymore.

Life has changed for the midfielder since scoring the winning goal that catapulted her side to their first major tournament — the upcoming Women’s Euro 2022.

It’s an incredible achievement for the Northern Ireland team, who, hampered by a round of injuries to key players, also couldn’t play together due to Covid restrictions but once in February for a friendly match against England.

And even more incredibly, many of the players are balancing full-time work off the pitch.

Caldwell, 30, is one of them, juggling shifts at one of Belfast’s busiest hospitals with training and matches. Football is her release from the upheaval that the pandemic has caused.

"(At work) I just really went into autopilot. Football was like an escape for me. Whenever I was working there, I looked forward to going to training and to meeting up with everyone," Caldwell told CNN Sport in July.

"It (football) always takes front and center — and a job comes second." But Caldwell, like most in her industry, is hopeful for a future in football where that is the only job. Nadene Caldwell, at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast in July. Photo: Kara Fox/CNN Caldwell scores NI’s second goal against Ukraine during the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 play-offs at Seaview Stadium in Belfast on April 13, 2021. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images "If you want to play full time, you really are pushed across the water," Caldwell, who played for an Australian club from 2015-2017, said. Playing abroad can serve as a springboard to a professional career, but she would like it to see it happen at home.

"A lot of people do have aspirations to go across the water… obviously, we’d love to play in the (English) Super League — but if it got better here, then you would prefer to stay at home and play with your circumstances right now."

"How can we improve the financial side and the league so that we can keep players at home and strengthen the league?" Caldwell added.

The lives of sportsmen compared to women in the game differs greatly, with opportunities for female players to make a living wage still lagging far behind men.

Worldwide soccer players’ union FIFPro found in a 2017 survey that 50% of women players don’t get paid, with nearly two-thirds of those who do receive a salary earn less than $600 a month.

Meanwhile, some 55% of male players globally earned more than US $1,000, according to FIFPRO’s Men’s 2016 Global Employment report — the latest comparative survey from FIFPRO. Frisbee and oval ball star Cat Phillips fired up by fight for gender equality The 2017 report on female athletes — which surveyed nearly 3,600 players in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas — found that 46% of players combine their football career with study, while 30% combine their football […]

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