Chelsea defender Gilly Flaherty can now shrug off the ‘best uncapped player in the country’ tag given to her by club boss Emma Hayes.
After impressing in the Blues’ double-winning campaign, the 24-year-old made her England bow in the 2-1 defeat by China in Yongchuan.
“I thought the day would never arrive,” she said.
England v Australia
8am, Tuesday 27 October 2015
Flaherty’s debut had been a long time coming. She made 28 appearances for England’s youth teams and helped the U19s win the Euros in 2009.
A regular starter for Arsenal, she won The FA WSL title, The FA Women’s Cup and Continental Cup with the Gunners – and yet that senior call-up still eluded her.
Flaherty was involved in Mark Sampson’s first ever England squad in January 2014, the same month she joined Chelsea, although she admits that she didn’t feel she deserved the call-up at the time.
Injury then stopped her in her tracks, but she bounced back to be one of Chelsea’s stand-out performers in their glory season and earned a spot in the Lionesses squad for last month’s 8-0 rout of Estonia.
And with five years between her last Under-23s cap and her first senior team appearance, Flaherty says her debut was made all the sweeter for the wait.
“I always dreamed of playing for England, and having gone all the way up from U15s, to the U19s and Under-23s, and after playing in World Cups at youth level, it got to the stage where I thought ‘maybe I’m never going to make it at senior level’,” she said.
“It got to the point where I had to stop looking for my name when the call-ups came through because it was never there.
“But I’m glad I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through. My value of football has changed massively.
“Not being a part of it for so long has made me appreciate it more. I was watching the Euros and the World Cups when I obviously wasn’t involved and it does get a bit disheartening. You know you’re playing well for your club but you’re still not getting a look in.”
She continued: “I think this year I’ve probably had one of my best seasons with Chelsea and I’ve got the recognition by being called up.
“It’s a lot sweeter now because I feel like I’ve really earned it.”
Flaherty believes her long road to the England team has made her stronger mentally – and she thanked Sampson for the guidance he has given her in their short time together.
“The last four or five years have been really tough for me and I said that to Mark when he first came in.
“I think it was a bit of a confidence issue with me, but this season has probably been one of my best because mentally I’m in a good place.
“Mark has been brilliant in that respect. He praises me when he thinks I need it and he’s been giving me pointers on how I can improve my game.
“This is only my second trip away but I feel a lot more comfortable within the seniors now. I feel like I’m becoming part of the team.
“Every trip away with England, every training session, every game, I now appreciate so much more because I never thought I’d be here.
“It’s a hard thing to get here. It’s an even harder thing to stay here.”
England are competing in the Dewellbon Cup, a three-team friendly tournament which also includes Australia and the hosts China.
On Friday, Flaherty started as part of a back three alongside Alex Scott and captain Steph Houghton. Although the result didn’t go to plan, Flaherty was satisfied with her own contribution.
She added: “I was pleased with how I played. I spoke to the girls afterwards and they thought I did well, which always means more than how I felt about it.
“It was a tough game in tough conditions. It was very hot and the air was very close. The first half almost took it out of me physically, but as the game went on I thought I grew into it more.
“It was disappointing not to get the result we wanted though.”
England face Australia on Tuesday 27 October (8am GMT kick-off).
The Lionesses’ next home match is a Euro 2017 qualifier against Bosnia & Herzegovina at Bristol City FC on Sunday 29 November (3.30pm kick-off).
Tickets are on sale now priced £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. A family ticket (two adults and two children) is available at £10 and group booking discounts apply.
Tickets can be purchased via TheFA.com/Tickets or by calling 01179 630 600.