by Tony Leighton
Gilly Flaherty is caught up in a whirlwind, she admits, as she looks ahead to big club and international games this week.
Chelsea and England defender Flaherty will today turn out for the Blues in the quarter-final of the SSE Women’s FA Cup.
It was the trophy she held aloft at Wembley last year.
Success in the domestic game has almost been a given for the centre-back at both Chelsea, who also won the Super League last year, and her previous club Arsenal.
Not so on the international stage, on to which she had never stepped before last October, despite producing several years of consistent club performances.
So, on Friday, when she lines up for England in their 2017 European Championships qualifier against Belgium at Rotherham, Flaherty will still be living the dream she thought would never come true for her.
“People around me used to tell me I should be involved with England,” she says, “but it seemed like I just wouldn’t get the opportunity.
“It got to the point where I was so frustrated I stopped looking for my name when the England squad was announced.
“And, after seeing the team do so well to win bronze at the World Cup last year, I thought that maybe my chance had gone.
In fact, if you’d told me at that point that I’d now be in the squad I’d have said you were bonkers!
“So, since getting called up for my first cap, it’s been a whirlwind six months – but I’m loving every minute.”
In the five England games that 24-year-old Flaherty has so far played, she has impressed against some of the world’s top strikers, among them America’s Alex Morgan and Alexandra Popp, of Germany.
Belgium striker Tessa Wullaert, who plays her club football for German team Wolfsburg, is unlikely to be as tough a test as Morgan or Popp.
And the Belgians, ranked 28th in the world – 24 places below England – should be second best as Flaherty & Co look to maintain their 100 per cent qualifying record.
But the Chelsea player insists: “I’ll give the striker I’m up against the same level of respect as I did the Americans and Germans. And, as a team, we’ll have the same mindset going into a game we’re desperate to win and keep our run going.
“We want to win every game in our qualifying group and then hopefully go on to win the Euros – and we believe we can do that.”
Flaherty also believes Chelsea can follow up their triumphant 2015 season with more silverware in the campaign just started.
And, just as England will be hot favourites to beat Belgium, so the Blues will be expected to breeze past WSL2 Villa in the Cup.
Tell that to Flaherty, however, and she might just tell you you’re bonkers.
“There are always shocks in the FA Cup” she says, “so there’s no way we’ll take anything for granted. But it’s our Cup – and we aim to keep hold of it.”
*This article was originally published in The FLP’s Women’s Football Weekly pull-out on 3 April 2016.