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Rachel McLaren thrilled to make memorable Northern Ireland debut


Rachel McLaren. Credit: William Cherry/Presseye

Rachel McLaren. Credit: William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

Rachel McLaren. Credit: William Cherry/Presseye

As international debuts go, playing 45 minutes in a winning team and keeping a clean sheet is usually as good as anyone can realistically expect.

To be a record breaker after just one half of football for your country was more than Rachel McLaren could have dreamed of.

The Crusaders Strikers defender had to put her surprise behind her very quickly after being told at half-time by manager Kenny Shiels that she was coming on to make her senior Northern Ireland debut in Thursday’s 11-0 victory over North Macedonia.

“I didn’t have a clue it was going to happen,” said McLaren, who will hope for more game time in the return clash on Monday. “I just had to take it all in, get used to the fact that I was coming on. It was a shock.”

The 19-year-old’s rise has been nothing short of amazing. At the start of the year she was only on the fringes at Crusaders and just two months ago she watched from the stand at Windsor Park as the players who are now her team-mates defeated Latvia 4-0.

Within a few weeks she was suddenly in the squad for the trip to play England at Wembley and now she is a fully-fledged international.

“It’s amazing to be here and play in the same team as them now. I’m delighted,” she said.

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“I was at the match at Windsor Park. I wasn’t even thinking that I was going to play in the team at any stage, but that dream came true very quickly.

“It was a mad month going from watching the team and then being in and around them. That’s a different experience completely.”

Backstopping the team to a record win was a different experience for goalkeeper Jackie Burns, after two tough and very busy 90 minutes against England and Austria last month when her run of four games without conceding from open play came to an end.

Oddly, the game at Wembley, when she conceded four times, was more satisfying.

“You know against England it is going to be a hard game and the main thing was that we didn’t want to give away silly goals — you wanted to make them work for a goal if they were going to get one,” said Burns. “I think we did an excellent job in doing that and it took them to make a big sub to come on and make an impact.

“I would say that I take more pride in the England game because I was more involved. Yes, Macedonia was a big game and I had a bit of a part to play in it, but as a goalkeeper you are going to look back on the saves you make.”

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