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Furness and Magill fired up for Goodison derby clash



Big stage: Simone Magill (left) tackling Leighanne Robe at

Big stage: Simone Magill (left) tackling Leighanne Robe at Anfield

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Big stage: Simone Magill (left) tackling Leighanne Robe at Anfield

With double bragging rights at stake friendship will go out the window when Northern Ireland's two most high profile women's internationals go head-to-head at Goodison Park tomorrow.

Whoever comes out on top when Everton Women and Liverpool Women clash in the Merseyside derby will take local pride as well as the three points.

For Everton's Simone Magill and Liverpool's Rachel Furness the opportunity to get one over their international team-mate will also come into play.

Simone was part of the Everton team that won 1-0 when the sides met at Anfield earlier in the season. Everton have followed suit by moving the match from their regular home in Southport to Goodison Park, giving the game an increased profile and also offering a bit more kudos for the winners - and 31-year-old Rachel, who has already notched her first goal after signing just last month, is determined it'll be the red half who will be wearing the smiles.

"I've seen Simone a few times since I moved up to Liverpool," said Rachel. "The banter has been going back and forward a bit, but it's quietened down a bit as this game gets closer.

"It's nice to see Northern Ireland players playing in what I believe is the best league in Europe. We'll have a good battle and I'll be up for that battle."

Rachel's arrival at Liverpool is part of the team's attempts to revive their fortunes after a stuttering start to the season.

While cup form has brought plenty of goals - Liverpool beat Blackburn Rovers 8-1 in the Women's FA Cup in their last outing - they have only won once in the league and victory at Goodison would be a welcome boost.

"What I've been told since I came here is that in the first half of the season the team didn't get the results they deserved, losing a lot of games by just one or two goals.

"We've turned a bit of a corner in recent weeks and this derby game is a perfect opportunity to move forward.

"I wasn't here when they played at Anfield earlier in the season, but I know the team was frustrated because they felt they didn't deserve to lose the game 1-0.

"This will be a typical derby. Form will go out the window and we'll be motivated to get our own back. If we can do that then hopefully we can kick on for the second half of the season."

A WSL Merseyside derby with two NI internationals going head-to-head only appeared on the radar a few short weeks ago when a season of change for Rachel saw her land in Liverpool.

Leaving Reading, where she had spent two seasons, was a must though with her international career key in the decision.

"I had to make a decision at the start of the season and with a big year for Northern Ireland in front of me, with Euro qualifying starting, I couldn't take the risk of not playing and I had to find first-team football," said Rachel.

"I wasn't certain that I was fitting in at Reading and if I was going to play much.

"I did all my pre-season at Reading, but I knew I was going to be moving and it was a great opportunity for me when the chance came to sign for Tottenham.

"That move and then coming to Liverpool have moved me out of my comfort zone and challenged me on and off the pitch. I think it's brought different parts out of my game and I am more of a leader now and I've got younger players looking up to me for guidance."

With the profile of the WSL on the increase clubs have taken to using their own stadiums to stage women's games more and more over the last 12 months.

International breaks have allowed them to do that and already this season Rachel has savoured three special London derbies with Spurs, firstly on the hallowed turf of Stamford Bridge before facing West Ham at the London Stadium and then getting to run out at Tottenham's plush new home.

"It's fantastic to get to play on these big stages. We had 38,000 at the Tottenham Stadium earlier in the season which is a WSL record and the atmosphere was amazing. It's one of the best stadiums in the world and having played in that, nerves won't play a part for me on Sunday. I will be excited and hopefully we can get the result."

Rachel and Simone will be back on the same side early next month when Kenny Shiels takes the women's international team to compete in the Pinatar Cup in Spain. They will face Iceland, Scotland and Ukraine in the tournament which runs from March 4 to 10 and those games will be ideal preparation for a trip to Belarus for a crucial Women's Euro 2021 qualifier in mid-April.

Victory in what is the toughest of the four remaining group games will increase NI's chances of securing qualification for a play-off where a first ever place at a major finals would be at stake.

Belfast Telegraph