Amidst the feeling of joy after playing a crucial role in helping Northern Ireland qualify for the Women’s Euro 2022 finals, few outside of a close inner circle knew of the pain that Simone Magill was going through.
Her winner in the first leg against Ukraine tipped the balance of the play-off clash in Northern Ireland’s favour. By the time Simone pounced on a mistake to set up Nadene Caldwell for the late goal in the second leg that sealed the ticket to England next summer she had nothing more to give.
For the previous five months the Everton Women striker had been playing through the discomfort of an Achilles tendon issue that had caused her to miss the final group games against Belarus and the Faroe Islands.
For the next six months she didn’t kick a ball, only stepping back onto the pitch in the dramatic 2-2 draw with Austria a few weeks ago.
As well as finding out all about the highs and low of football, in between those games Simone had also been on a roller-coaster of emotion away from the pitch.
Now she is cherishing every moment of playing time and hoping that scoring against Manchester United in her first WSL game of the season last week, pouncing as Norway defender Maria Thorisdottir and England goalkeeper Mary Earps – who she will also face in the Euro finals - is just the start.
“I did everything I could to get myself in a position that I was available for the play-off games and I got through them” Simone told Sunday Life Sport.
“I remember in the second leg, because I had played the full 90 minutes in both matches, I was hanging on because I was virtually injured, but there was no way I was coming off the pitch. It was the biggest match in our history and there was no way I was going to miss it.
“Since the play-off games it’s been a long journey. Last Sunday was my first league appearance and it was nice to come back and be involved and get myself on the scoresheet.
“I’d only been on eight minutes ... it’s probably my best start to the season yet.”
Those eight minutes were amazing therapy after months of anguish and frustration, which included missing pre-season with Everton and the start of the Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
There had been other moments of release. Getting married in the summer brought joy. That late appearance against Austria was also something to savour.
It was just a few days earlier that she sat in the stand at Wembley as her team mates faced England, the upset of a family bereavement putting an appearance on such a big stage into perspective.
“Coming off the back of qualifying for Euros, which was such a high and then I got married in the summer, which was amazing,” she said.
“I had that time, which was really nice and then in the last month I lost my father-in-law suddenly and everything just stops and you think ‘why has this happened?’ and ‘how do I even process that this has happened?’
“I couldn’t even think about trying to kick a football at that moment in time, It was very, very difficult.
“Equally at the same time the release I felt when I went back. It happened just before the England game and to meet up with the girls again was so good for me.
“It doesn’t make things any easier, but I am getting there week by week and getting away with the girls was such a big thing for me and getting on the pitch was a big moment – a big release.
“The girls are great for that. We always say that we are like a big family and they were amazing throughout it all. I don’t think I could have done it without them, but now ... getting stronger each day.”
After overcoming all that the focus now has changed. Thoughts are very much on home and away clashes against North Macedonia over the next 10 days and banking six vital World Cup qualifying points.
The hype of playing at Windsor Park and Wembley is in the past and so too are the distractions that came with those matches.
Heaping pressure on Austria after coming within a whisker of defeating them is paramount in the thoughts of Kenny Shiels’ squad as they aim to make further history after their Euro qualification feats.
“A lot of this is very new to this group of players. The attention that we have had since the back end of the Euro qualifying campaign has gone from zero to one hundred really,” said Simone.
“It will be nice to get our heads down and go into game that won’t necessarily be as hyped up and get down, work hard and start putting really solid preparations in with this group because we have a big year coming up.
“We are seeded third in the group and you definitely have to be beating the teams below us as a guarantee and then if we can try to get points off the teams ranked above us that’s a bonus – and we have already done that against Austria.”