'Every day's a learning curve': Megan Bell discusses dream Durham debut and Women's Super League aims
It's hard to believe Megan Bell is only 18.
She's already almost two years into her senior Northern Ireland career and, on Sunday, made a goal-scoring start to her spell at Durham in the English Championship.
"Can I have a quick word for the Tele?" I venture at the Irish FA's media announcement for the Northern Ireland senior side's new partnership with Electric Ireland.
"Absolutely. They're looking me for a photo but I'll come back."
Those words, spoken by the more reticent players, can mean a shy, awkward 'no' as a quick getaway is sought after the snappers have their time.
Not for Megan.
"We've never met before, I don't think?" A confidence and a warmth is evident from the off.
Without meaning to read too much into a character on the back of a brief chat at the edge of the Windsor Park pitch, there was an assured tone that belied her teenage years.
"I'm focused and I know what I want," she says, discussing her aims to reach the very top of the game in the Women's Super League across the water.
She's going the right way about it. Bell was included in the Team of the Week off the back of her Durham debut, converting the opener from close range and laying two late goals on a plate for substitute Molly Sharpe.
A 5-1 win over Leicester and Durham are top of the table.
"If we keep performing how we did on Sunday, we can go up," says Bell, "but we need to stay grounded and focused on the task. Every single game, we need to play with the intent of going to play in the WSL next season."
The goal has been set. Not only does Bell want to reach the top, she's determined to do it at Durham.
The Belfast girl joined the club from Linfield Ladies at the end of June, realising a lifelong ambition that began when she was training with the Northland Raiders senior side aged just EIGHT.
The Raiders would become Linfield Ladies, not ideal news for the fan who would wear her Glentoran top to training. A senior debut followed after turning 14 and Bell would go on to win three consecutive titles with the Blues.
"The Irish League is getting better and more competitive," she says. "We're starting to get players coming in from all over the world which is a credit to the league.
"As much as the Irish League is progressing though, England is where you want to be at the minute. That was the main thing for me, wanting to move over early.
"It is just a dream and all I've wanted to do. It's a big step for me but hopefully this is just the first step.
"The standard of football is just so fast. The league's very, very competitive so you know you're going to have to be on top of your game every time you step on the pitch.
"It's been amazing so far. I think I can only get better."
The same, Megan says, is true of her cooking skills. Moving away from parents Deborah and James mean an even quicker learning curve off the pitch.
"I've only set the fire alarm off twice," she laughs in her typically bubbly style. "Every day's a learning curve, that's what I say.
"It's been difficult but it's also been nice. I feel a lot more independent. I'm not being looked after.
"I'm missing friends and family but it's made me grow up a lot. I've had to become an adult because I've been like a 12 year-old the whole way growing up.
"I'm focused and I know what I want so that kind of normalizes it for me."
She will start university, studying Sport, Excercise and Physical Activity, at the end of September.
Before then, there's the small matter of Northern Ireland's opening two Euro 2021 qualifiers against Norway and Wales.
"It's going to be so interesting playing our first games under Kenny (Shiels)," she says. "Everyone's so excited. There's a real buzz about the place. It's a new time for Northern Irish football, for women especially. The game is growing so much and we can't wait to get onto the pitch next Friday and channel that excitement into something."
Having more players, like Bell, in the English game, is the ideal scenario for Shiels.
In the midfielder, he will have a player in top spirits, and top form, after Saturday's dream debut.
"Obviously I'm delighted," Bell beams, remembering her first taste of English action. "I couldn't have dreamt of a better start. The win was the most important thing. You couldn't ask for more than 5-1 on the opening day of the season but to score and get a couple of assists, it just couldn't have gone any better for me.
"I was so excited before the game but I was nervous as well. They were good nerves. Nerves, for me, are good. If I'm nervous then I know I'm going to do ok.
"My goal - I couldn't have missed it. Jordan Atkinson went down the wing and I held my run a bit. I remember the ball bounced coming towards me but I just side-footed it into the net. Simple but effective.
"When the ball hit the back of the net, I was absolutely delighted. My heart - it just felt so full. I can't even remember what I did, I think I just ran and did a big jump or something. It was amazing.
"I scored in the seventh minute as well so it was so very special," she says with another of those giggles.
Megan Bell's fixed focus, inspiring attitude and infectious personality will be huge benefits for Durham and Northern Ireland.
And for a long time to come as well. Somehow, she's still only 18.
Belfast Telegraph Digital