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I kept news that I’d be starting for Northern Ireland against England a secret from family and friends, reveals Laura Rafferty

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Laura Rafferty started against England in her home city of Southampton

Laura Rafferty started against England in her home city of Southampton

Laura Rafferty started against England in her home city of Southampton

Laura Rafferty kept the news that she was going to be starting a game in a major tournament in her home city a secret because she knew that it would spread like wildfire through her family.

It was therefore as much of a surprise to Rafferty’s Belfast-born father as it was to all the other Northern Ireland fans when the team was announced.

The Southampton-born player was handed her first minutes at the Women’s Euro 2022 Finals when Kenny Shiels selected her in the line-up to face England at St Mary’s Stadium on Friday night in midfield in place of Chloe McCarron.

She almost made a telling impact within the first minute when her pass forward sent Lauren Wade through to eventually bring an early save out of England goalkeeper Mary Earps.

“I was over the moon when I was told that I was starting the game — delighted,” says Rafferty.

“I didn’t tell any of my family because I didn’t want the overload of good luck messages, so I think it was more of a surprise for them to see me on.

“From start to finish, even being in the squad, for me that was massive, so to get onto the pitch was fantastic and something that I will take with me.”

Rafferty’s selection looked like more of a defensive ploy by Shiels, knowing that England would come at Northern Ireland in waves of attack. It was then a surprise to her that she was able to get the team on the attack so soon.

She was then involved in another big moment just five minutes in when initially the referee awarded a penalty after Rafferty had blocked Georgia Stanway’s shot with her arm, but a VAR check and touchline review saw that overturned because Beth Mead had handled earlier in the move.

“I didn’t expect to get the ball that early, but I do know we have great outlets,” says Rafferty.

“That’s something that we’ve got, we are a very organised team and you can argue a few different things, but England are a phenomenal team and they deserve so much credit as well.

“Our first target was to start the game positively and I think we did that and we gave a great account of ourselves.”

She adds: “It was never a penalty.”

At 26-years-old, Rafferty is seen as an important part of the plans to push for further tournament qualification in the future.

Now that she has been on the big stage, the Southampton Women star is hungry to get back as soon as possible.

“We need to go home, reflect on this and then get ready to crack on now,” she explains.

“We have girls who want to come through. Northern Ireland is on the map in women’s football now and we’re not leaving.

“It’s hard to find the words to describe everything. It was an unbelievable feeling and I think when you see that green wall in the corner, they were fantastic and really pushed us on.

“We have a great group, they build you up, they help you and when you do go 1-0 down against a team like England it’s tough to come back, but you really have to bite the bullet and I think we really stuck together.”


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