Rebecca McKenna got her first taste of football at the very highest level on Monday.
Handed a starting place as one of four changes that Kenny Shiels made for the Women’s Euro 2022 clash with Austria following the opening 4-1 defeat to Norway, the Bangor girl is determined it won’t be her last, regardless of whether she plays against England on Friday night.
Few players in the Northern Ireland squad have experienced such a swift upward trajectory in the last year. From shining in a Linfield Ladies team going through a transitional period, she stood out for Lewes Ladies in the English Championship after making the move last July and is now targeting more big moments even after this amazing European Championship journey comes to an end.
“I got told the morning of the game in the team meeting that I was starting against Austria and it was a great feeling,” said 21-year-old McKenna.
“Everyone wants to play on the big stages and Monday night was different class, it would have topped it off if we could have got the result.
“We know that Friday night is our last game in the tournament, but we don’t want this to be a one-time thing.
“It shows that we have made massive progress over the last three years.
“We have a lot of home-based players in this squad and every one of them has stepped up, they have worked so hard over the last six or seven months, that has really shown and that is only positive going forward.”
For now, though, the future can wait. Trying to end the tournament on a high is the aim at present. Based on the past — both the immediate and more distant — doing that is a tough ask against an England team that beat Northern Ireland 4-0 and 5-0 in World Cup qualifiers and hammered Norway 8-0 on Monday night.
Finding chinks in the Lionesses’ armour may seem a difficult task, but it won’t stop Northern Ireland from searching for weaknesses that they can exploit or take away any belief that a first point at a major tournament can be achieved.
“They are a top team and we know it’s going to be difficult,” said McKenna.
“We’ve played them in the past so we just have to look back at the footage and we’ll see areas that we can exploit and hopefully we can do that on Friday.”