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'I'll make it as a star for my late uncle': Lisburn footballer Grace (11) dreams of World Cup


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Grace Campbell

Grace Campbell

Grace with mum Carol O'Dwyer

Grace with mum Carol O'Dwyer

Grace Campbell

Grace Campbell

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Grace Campbell

A young Northern Ireland super-fan is determined to become a professional footballer in memory of her uncle.

Grace Campbell (11), from Lisburn, was devastated after west Belfast man Johnny O'Dwyer took his own life in August.

But the Linfield Ladies youth player, who was nominated as a mascot for Northern Ireland's Women's Euro 2022 qualifier against Belarus on Friday, is determined to do her uncle proud through football.

Mum Carol O'Dwyer told said: "Watching her journey as a footballer, I've never been more proud. She continuously amazes me. Watching her on the field really pulls at the heartstrings. I'm super-proud of her.

"We've had a rough year. My brother passed away in August. We thought it might have affected her performance, but she's even more determined. She's out the back for hours on end, practising skills and drills.

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Grace with mum Carol O'Dwyer

Grace with mum Carol O'Dwyer

Grace with mum Carol O'Dwyer

"We ask her how she is about her uncle and she would mention about wanting to do him proud.

"She goes to a Rangers Advanced Centre. When she got accepted, there was a bit of banter between the two of them because he was a Celtic fan.

"She just wants to make him proud through her football and it's amazing to see her doing so well and taking that attitude."

Grace, who started playing the game aged five, was nominated more than a dozen times to be a virtual mascot for Northern Ireland's 3-2 victory over Belarus on Friday, which brought the side closer to securing a place in the Women's Euro 2022 play-offs.

Mascots normally only receive one nomination, so Carol was stunned by the number Grace got.

"I'm delighted she's had so many. It's wonderful she's so well thought of," she said.

"From when she started aged eight with her first club, she has continued to develop.

"I always knew there was something special about her because she is very competitive. That's quite important when you're learning to play a contact sport. I did always think she'd end up playing for a big club.

"Every match day I have her propped up against the fireplace taking pictures. It has got to the stage where she is saying to me, 'Mum, come on'.

"Myself and my partner Rab (36), who is her step-dad, take her to all the games.

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Grace Campbell

Grace Campbell

Grace Campbell

"He takes her out the back for hours on end, helping her practise.

"He's got her where she is. He's the one who pushes everything for her and says, 'Right, do an extra five keepie-uppies, work on your strength training and do your push-ups and pull-ups'.

"He's done a good job. He's her personal coach and has done brilliant with her.

"Every morning she wakes up with football in her head (and it's there) until she goes to bed at night."

Grace, who has used lockdown to raise her keepie-uppie record from 33 to 334, idolises Cristiano Ronaldo and would love to play at the World Cup one day.

"I'm a big fan of the Northern Ireland Women's team. I love Caitlin McGuinness - she's great. I'd love to play for them in a World Cup one day," she said.

"I just love watching and playing football. It keeps me fit and healthy and I enjoy scoring goals. I love when people say, 'Well done. Good game'.

"I got into it from watching the Premier League, then I started seeing the Champions League and I got more into that.

"I train every single day. I can't get enough. I started lockdown with 33 keepie-uppies and now I can do 334.

"I work on my skills and strength a lot to be like Cristiano Ronaldo. He's my favourite player. He's fantastic and has unreal skills.

"I play for Linfield now, which is unreal. I have made some good friends and I really enjoy it.

"I also play for Co Down and I want to go on and play at international level and for Liverpool."


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