Joelle Murray says she feels indebted to Hibs Ladies manager Chris Roberts for his role in ensuring her inclusion in Scotland’s European Championships squad.
The Scots get their first-ever finals appearance underway tonight in the Netherlands where they face England in Utrecht (kick-off 7.45pm). Drawn in Group D, Anna Signeul’s players will also play Portugal in Rotterdam on Sunday before a final group encounter with Spain in Deventer a week tomorrow.
However, as defender Murray prepares to enter the lion’s den this evening, there was a time not so long ago when she wondered if she’d be forced into making alternative plans this summer having suffered a stress response tibia fracture whilst on international duty at the Cyprus Cup in March.
The 30-year-old, who is set to earn her 44th cap tonight, admits she did fear the worst but believes not only her own personal drive but the support shown by Roberts aided her back to full fitness.
An intense rehabilitation programme coupled with a gradual return to football at club level now has Murray on the brink of fulfilling a lifelong ambition of representing her country at the highest level.
“I’ve always played under managers who have supported me and really pushed me on to better things,” Murray explained to the Evening News. “Hibs has been my only club and Chris was there for me through this injury I had earlier in the season. He knew the aim was always to get me back playing ahead of the Euros to ensure I was available for selection. I had to manage my game-time when I was fit to return and Chris understood that. I owe so much to him for his support, particularly over the last few months in helping me get there.”
While there was no-one more relieved than Murray to learn of her inclusion at last month’s squad announcement, she does harbour some disappointment that Hibs team-mate Lizzie Arnot won’t be there to share the experience.
Winger Arnot’s Euro hopes were extinguished when the 21-year-old ruptured her anterior cruciate knee ligament during a training session in April – an injury that immediately ruled the former Hutchison Vale talent out for the rest of the season.
“Lizzie would have been included in the squad without a doubt as she’s such a massive talent,” the Hibs Ladies captain said. “We’ve been training together at the gym at Oriam and her rehab is going really well. It was awful what happened to Lizzie but she’s very focused on getting back and being stronger for it.”
For now, though, Murray’s primary focus is on tonight’s opponents and one of the pre-tournament favourites, England. And, with the Scotland squad having suffered the agony of a last-gasp defeat to Spain in a play-off for Euro 2013 over four years ago, Murray insists now is the time to prove they belong at Europe’s top table.
“It’s really hit home now we’re just about to play our first game,” she said. “I never imagined all those years ago when I got my first cap that I’d be part of the first Scottish ladies squad that would qualify for a major championships. It’s a proud moment for myself and will probably be the pinnacle of my career.
“The media attention we’re getting is certainly something I’ve never experienced before. It’s nice and do I like it and it’s great to get that publicity, not just for the girls but for women’s football as a whole.
“We all appreciate that this is our first appearance at a major competition and that we’re in a very difficult group. We recognise that and so does Anna as she hasn’t set us any targets. We want to put ourselves about and despite it being a tough group, it’s one we know we can be competitive in.
“We played Spain in a friendly just over a year ago and drew with them [1-1 March 2016] so we know what we’re up against. We’ve got a talented squad ourselves that are more than capable of competing.”
• Tonight’s game is being broadcast live on Channel 4.