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History-maker Nelson hopes to inspire a generation with historic 100th cap

 

By Steven Beacom

Julie Nelson will make history tonight when she becomes the first player to win 100 caps for the Northern Ireland women's team and she hopes her achievement will inspire youngsters to follow in her footsteps.

Defender Nelson has been a stalwart and sensational servant to the women's game here and deserves all the plaudits that have come her way this week.

It will be a proud and historic moment for the 33-year-old when she steps onto the pitch at Shamrock Park for Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Slovakia (7.30pm).

While much attention will be on the Crusaders Strikers centre-back, Nelson will be keen to ensure that Alfie Wylie's team finish their campaign on a high.

If Northern Ireland avoid defeat that will be enough for fourth place in the five-nation group with the Netherlands and Norway also meeting tonight to determine who tops the table. The Republic of Ireland finished third.

Earlier in the qualification process, Wylie's girls won 3-1 in Slovakia with Nelson on the scoresheet. The same scenario would be fairytale stuff.

Nelson's first cap came in 2004 so she has come a long way - much like the team itself.

While Pat Jennings, Aaron Hughes and Steven Davis are all centurions for Northern Ireland in the men's game, Nelson is relishing creating history.

"Reaching 100 caps will be a proud moment for me," she said.

"I've enjoyed playing for Northern Ireland over the last 14 years and I hope I'm able to inspire the next generation.

"Becoming the first woman to win 100 caps for Northern Ireland is an achievement I never thought was possible when I began playing."

That was when she was just four-years-old in her hometown Larne in Sandy Bay Playing Fields. Asked to join a local team called Gilmour Gals, her potential was evident from an early age. Nelson started out as a goalkeeper before playing on the right wing and right-back, eventually settling at centre-back.

In Nelson's fifth cap she suffered a cruciate ligament injury which kept her out for 13 months but she fought to return and proved successful in club football in England and Scotland.

"From starting out at Gilmour Gals I joined Newtownabbey Strikers who then amalgamated with Crusaders and now we are called Crusaders Strikers," Nelson told the IFA, for whom she works as a Women's Football Ambassador and coaches in the Regional Excellence Programme.

"After Newtownabbey Strikers I played in England for Everton and that was a great opportunity to play in the top league in England. I then joined Glasgow City and played two seasons there. We managed to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League in my last year."

While Nelson has a big night to savour, there was misfortune for young Northern Ireland goalkeeper Lauren Perry.

The Linfield Ladies No.1 is out long-term after suffering a serious knee injury.

The teenage star is expected to have an operation on her knee this month after sustaining a torn cruciate ligament in a Northern Ireland U19s friendly against Hungary two weeks ago.

Perry has won five caps and was named Player of the Year last term after a stunning season.

Belfast Telegraph

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