|Venue: St. George’s Park, England Date: Tuesday, 23 February Kick-off: 12:30 GMT|
|Coverage: Watch live on the BBC Sport website and on BBC iPlayer|
With a limited social life, time out of school and a lack of exams – it’s a strange time to be growing up as a 16-year-old.
Even more so for Ella Haughey, who has gone from supporting Northern Ireland’s history makers to a first-ever senior call-up in the space of 10 weeks.
It is a fairytale rise to Kenny Shiels’ squad for Tuesday’s friendly with England as Northern Ireland ramp up their preparations ahead of April’s two-legged Euro 2022 play-off.
After training with the senior squad as a trial, Lisburn Rangers defender Haughey and her parents – John and Kirsty – were called into a meeting with Shiels.
“I thought Kenny was going to say well done and that I had improved, but when he said I was in the squad it was just pure disbelief,” said Haughey.
“He said I had been training well. I was ecstatic and over the moon. It was quite emotional and I tried to hold back the tears. I held it together but when I got out of the meeting I just broke down.”
Haughey wasn’t the only one who was trying to hold back the emotion in the meeting. Her father John joked: “If the meeting had been one minute longer I think we would have seen a grown man cry.
“He was very down to earth and said she had earned the opportunity and that she would have to keep earning it. I had to hold back the tears when he asked was her passport in date.”
Hard work pays off
Like many budding footballers, Haughey’s love for the sport began when playing in the back garden with her brother. She started playing for her primary school team and her talent eventually led to her involvement with Northern Ireland’s youth squads.
While unexpected, the senior call-up is the result of years of hard work for the defender. She regularly does six-day weeks of training with Northern Ireland’s Under-17, Under-19 and senior teams as well as doing her own additional work in her free time.
“It’s hard to put into words how much it means to me,” Haughey said on her call-up.
“The team have been doing so well. I was watching them qualify for the play-off on TV so to be in the squad now is hard to believe. To be playing with my idols, who I have supported for years, is just unbelievable.”
Haughey said she was so nervous when she first started training with the senior team she couldn’t even look her new team-mates in the eyes.
“Everyone was so welcoming. I always used to dream about it but I am still in such disbelief that it is actually happening,” she added.
“It is a massive opportunity to even be in the same environment as the team. I want to learn from the experienced players and take as much from it as I can.
“I want to solidify my place in the team and be part of the play-offs. To make history with Northern Ireland would be unbelievable.”
England a huge opportunity
A big few months lie ahead for Kenny Shiels’ side. The friendly against England will be a chance to get the rust off before a first-ever play off for the Euro 2022 finals in April.
Haughey says her friends and coaches have been “extremely supportive” and she is looking forward to experiencing the home of English football.
“St George’s Park looks unbelievable. You make passing comments when you are younger about wanting to be at places like that so the thought of being there is breathtaking,” added the Down High pupil.
“England are one of the best teams in the world and playing against some of the players I’ve looked up to for years will be incredible. Lucy Bronze is my absolute idol and I could now be playing against her.”
The England friendly and the play-offs are the immediate focus for the teenager but she admits she harbours aspirations of a big future in the sport.
“I just can’t wait to learn so many things. I will take away a lot from the professional environment and I can put it in my game.
“I have put in the hard work and now is the time to try and enjoy this camp. Even just being around the team in England will be unbelievable but it will be hopefully an opportunity to show what both I and the team can do.
“It would be a dream of mine to get a contract in England and become a full-time professional. To get paid for doing what I love would be unbelievable. I want to work hard to try and achieve that.”
— to www.bbc.co.uk