Lauren eyeing award

Lauren eyeing award

17 June 2020

BALLYNAHINCH soccer star Lauren Perry is in line for another major accolade — at the tender age of 19.

The Northern Ireland international goalkeeper has been nominated for the Player of the Year award at Blackburn Rovers Ladies. 

The teenager joined Rovers from Linfield last October and has produced some outstanding displays, helping Blackburn to a seventh place finish in the FA Women’s Championship, which ended prematurely owing to Covid-19.

She has already been named Ulster Women’s Player of the Year, NIFWA Women’s Football Personality of the Year and NIFL Player of the Year.

She helped Linfield win three NIFL Women’s Premiership titles in as many years and made her Northern Ireland debut at the age of 16. 

She has since gone on to win a further four senior caps for her country and has also played for Northern Ireland in the European U-19 Championships. 

While at Windsor Park, where her dad Alan is assistant manager of the senior ladies’ team, she was named Linfield’s Women’s Player of the Year and Women’s Personality of the Year. 

Lauren admits the scale of her achievements to date “are the stuff of dreams”.

Having started out with Ballynahinch Ladies, she says she moved to Linfield to adapt to playing in a higher league, but never thought she would get this far.

“I do have to pinch myself a bit at my journey to date,” she says.

Lauren made her senior international debut in September 2017 against former world champions Norway.

Northern Ireland fell to a 4-1 defeat, but Lauren was named player of the match after making a string of fine saves.

“Growing up I always wanted to play football and represent Northern Ireland, so making my senior international debut is something I will always cherish,” she said.

“Being in the senior international environment at 16 made me mature quickly because there are so many experienced players about.”

She admits receiving the international call-up from then Northern Ireland manager Alfie Wylie was a complete surprise just weeks after featuring in the European U-19 Championships in Northern Ireland.

“I remember walking out at Windsor Park in front of 4,000 people against Spain and thinking, ‘wow, this is unbelievable’,” she recalls.

“After the final group game against Germany, a journalist asked me if I thought Alfie would call me up to the senior squad, and to be honest, I was thinking he was mad.

“A few weeks later I got the call and I remember being so nervous.”

While riding on the crest of a wave, Perry sustained a freak knee injury when catching a ball in August 2018 on U-19 duty with Northern Ireland.

“Initially we weren’t aware of the full extend of the injury,” said Lauren, who was meant to be with the senior set-up a few weeks later.

“I’ve done it a thousand times during matches and for it to happen that one time was awful.

“I was actually with the senior squad when I got told the extent of the damage when I went up to see the team doctor.

“Everyone started clapping when they saw me as I was off my crutches and I had to swallow a lump in my throat because it wasn’t good news.”

With injury firmly halting her momentum, Lauren says the support of her team-mates enabled her to deal with the challenge, both physically and mentally.

“Everyone at Northern Ireland and Linfield were very good with me and I didn’t have any setbacks in my recovery,” she continued.

After moving to Blackburn Lauren split her time between football and her degree in Sport and PE at the University at Central Lancashire.

The coronavirus pandemic has meant she has had to finish her studies from home, which has included coursework and doing “Joe Wicks-style exercise videos” for kids.

After recovering from injury and settling into life at Blackburn, Lauren has her sights on returning to the senior Northern Ireland squad under new manager Kenny Shiels.

“It’s a great time to be in the international squad and we are really going in the right direction,” she says.

“I’m now at the end of my time with the U-19s so my focus is getting back in the senior squad. Kenny has been keeping in touch to make sure everyone is keeping okay and we’re not feeling down.

“The team is on such an up and every time we were playing we were progressing.”

The Covid-19 outbreak has interrupted her maiden season in England, but Lauren is working hard on training at home to be in the best possible shape when it is safe for football to return.

“I have a programme with Blackburn and I’m doing some extra stuff on my own too,” she says.

“I’m lucky enough to have a few weights and I’ve been splitting my time between my garden and a local pitch.”

She added: ”Sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to go out and train, but I know what I am aiming for and that’s the top.

“To get a professional contract would be a dream come true and all my hard work would have paid off.”