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Simone Magill: 'My role models were male, but now women know there is a career out there for them'

Everton ace Simone Magill on the rise of women's game and making history with NI

Loving life: NI ace Simone Magill
Loving life: NI ace Simone Magill
Simone in action for her country
Simone getting stuck in for Everton
Simone Magill
Simone Magill

By Stuart McKinley

Life could have been very different for Simone Magill had her older brother - like many would have done - shunned the very thought of having his little sister tag along when he was going to play football.

No falling in love with the game as a primary school child, no rise through the international ranks to make history in a Northern Ireland shirt, no mention in the Guinness Book of World Records and no full-time professional deal at one of England's biggest clubs.

The sliding doors could have led to something a far cry from how things actually turned out.

Thankfully, the understanding between the Magill siblings in their early years growing up in Magherafelt meant that Simone was able to achieve all of that. And at just 24 years of age, the Everton Ladies forward still has more dreams to fulfil.

Just this week she signed a new three-year contract at Everton and with Kenny Shiels recently appointed as the senior Northern Ireland women's manager, hopes are high for the new international era.

The landscape of the women's game has changed dramatically since she first donned a pair of boots at Tobermore United. This summer's Women's World Cup is expected to expedite further evolution and growth.

Timing has been everything to Simone in her life and football career and she admits that while it was tough at the start, she is benefiting from the current growth and those who follow will get things even better.

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"I was probably born at a good time," said Simone.

"Professional football for women wasn't really a thing when I was growing up. All my role models were male players, whereas young girls now can look and have female role models and know that there is a career out there for them and it's fantastic just to have that possibility.

"Even in the Women's Super League, it's getting better every year and I'm lucky that I've at least got to be a part of it.

"I know that even 10 years down the line when I'm not playing any more it's going to be even bigger and better. The young kids who are coming through now, they've had the World Cup to watch. When I was their age I didn't have anything like that."

Simone is relishing being a role model herself to young female footballers as a new generation reaps the benefits of the battles won by their predecessors.

While mixed teams are still common, few female players will now come through the system without having played in all-girls' teams from an early age, whereas Simone just wanted to do the same as her brother.

"My brother went every Saturday to Tobermore United to play and I was saying, 'Where's he going? I want to go'," Simone explained.

"My parents were happy to let me go with him to see if I liked it and straight away I loved it. I was hooked from such a young age.

"I went through primary school without there being any real girls' teams about so I played with the boys' teams and joined Cookstown Youth boys' team. I was there from I was 10-years-old until I was 15. I had joined Mid Ulster Ladies by then and was playing with boys in the winter and girls in the summer.

"I juggled them both and played all year round and then played for Mid Ulster until I joined Everton.

"I always knew what I wanted to do from I was young, I knew I wanted to be a footballer. Being a professional footballer wasn't really a possibility at that time, but I knew it was going to get there, or I was living in the hope that it would."

Hope will only ever get you so far, though. Simone, however, was prepared to work hard and make sacrifices in order to fulfil her dream.

Most 18-year-olds long for the weekends to either chill out or party.

Instead, Simone (below) was packing her bags, jumping on a plane to Liverpool and then flying back on Monday morning to start school again, with no time to relax or revel.

"I first went over to Everton on trial when I was 18 and they said they wanted to sign me. I have been there ever since," she said.

"I was still at school at home in Magherafelt doing my A Levels when I signed for Everton in the February and I had to complete my exams.

"I would fly over on a Thursday night, train and play at the weekend, fly back on Monday morning and go to school and then repeat that week after week until June when I moved over permanently.

"I didn't feel any pressure at the time. It was actually pretty cool at the start, rolling into school on a Monday morning straight off the plane."

Balancing studies and football became the norm even after signing on the dotted line at Goodison Park. Even now, she is a year into a part-time PhD course.

Like any good forward, Simone was in the right place at the right time when she graduated with a Masters in sports coaching, with Everton about to make a change that would have a major impact on her life and career, as she became the first Northern Ireland international to sign a professional contract.

"I got into Edge Hill University and the football was part-time back then, so my studying gave me a back-up and a place to base myself while I played," she explained.

"We were going full-time just as I was finishing my Masters so it just fell at the right time for me and worked out really well.

"We got promoted and the league was changing. They were pushing every team in the top division to go full-time and the investment and everything was coming with it.

"We got the news that we were going full-time, which is every young kid's dream. I was the second player to sign at Everton and the first Northern Ireland player to ever sign a professional deal.

"You dream of waking up every day and playing football and to be able to get to do that was unbelievable."

That was just two years ago.

Simone had already made history before then.

After stunning Italy with a superb chip to put Northern Ireland 1-0 up in April 2016 - they would lose 3-1 to three goals in the final 20 minutes - her name went global two months later with a goal against Georgia after only 11 seconds. Yes, 11 seconds - and the Georgians had taken the kick-off.

Simone now holds the record for the quickest goal ever in women's international football and in Northern Ireland international history. Anyone who wants to take either off her will have to be quick off the mark.

"I watched Italy in the World Cup and was talking about how well we played against them. I remember my goal, it was a ball over the top and I saw the keeper off her line and I just lobbed it over her. It's one I'll never forget," she said.

"It's a nice feeling to see a team in the World Cup and be able to say that I scored against them and it's one of the best goals I've ever scored.

"The goal against Georgia just happened so quickly.

"We said we wanted a good start and an early goal, but I didn't think it would come that early. The ball fell to each of us in the right place and next thing it was in the back of the net.

"The next day my phone was going mad with everyone saying it'd broken this record or that record. It was just unbelievable."

More records and further history are now in Simone's sights - as well as an impending wedding having recently got engaged.

The excitement over the World Cup and memories of Michael O'Neill's men rousing a nation with their performances at Euro 2016 has whetted her appetite. Pulling on the green shirt at a major tournament is now high on her wish-list.

With more and more doors opening at club level both in England and at top clubs across Europe, there seems to be no end of opportunities for a female footballer in her mid-20s.

"Ultimately my aim, in terms of Northern Ireland, is to qualify for something. That has to be the dream," she said. "It's a fresh new chapter for us now and although I'm not saying we are suddenly going to go out and qualify in the next campaign, I definitely want us to get closer every time. I want us to be pushing.

"It is something that I want to be part of when it happens, because it will happen.

"I have just got Player of the Year at Everton and going into next season hopefully my confidence is still high and if I am doing well then who knows?

"There are countless opportunities out there now and if you are doing well on the pitch then the opportunities come."

It might just be about timing, but that's never been a problem for Simone before.

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