Cliftonville's Abbie Magee prepared for Austria challenge with NI women

Demi Vance (3) made a comeback from a long ACL injury absence, which inspired Abbie Magee, who has also returned to the Northern Ireland women's squad.
Kenny Archer in Vienna

AUSTRIA away is the toughest trip for Northern Ireland's women in World Cup qualifying, apart from travelling to England, but Abbie Magee repeatedly shows he has the resilience to face up to challenges.

The new Cliftonville player's senior international debut came as a teenager in October 2020 with the team reduced to 10 players away to Belarus in a crunch qualifier for this summer's delayed Euros.

More than that, manager Kenny Shiels sent her on for the second half instead of veteran centre half Ashley Hutton, albeit at right-back, and Magee helped see out a 1-0 victory. She also came off the bench in the 3-2 home win over the Belarussians.

Yet an anterior cruciate ligament injury in the week leading up to the two-legged Euros play-off for against Ukraine last spring put her out of all football until recently.

Shiels bemoaned her loss then, hailing her as 'our best player' in training at that time, and has shown faith in her by selecting her for the squad to face Austria then host England in Belfast next Tuesday night.

The Killinchy girl admitted that the boss's initial belief in her was stunning, so much so that the barely recalls that debut game in Minsk: "It was probably the most shocked I've ever been, getting told 'You're going on'. I was excited to get on the pitch, you want to play in big games."

From the high of those matches against Belarus, she had to watch her team-mates seal Euro qualification.

However, initial doubts about her ability to recover were dispelled, thanks to inspiration from colleagues with similar injuries, including left-back Demi Vance:

"You always think when you've done your cruciate that you might never come back. Thankfully, with everybody that helped me to work hard, and seeing Demi, who was just ahead of me in her re-hab, being able to compete again at international level was huge motivation - that's all I needed.

Magee has taken on another challenge, switching from Linfield Ladies to Cliftonville. She has ambitions with both club and country, she acknowledges: "I just think it was the best move for me at this time. Everybody wants to get game-time and play well to get picked for these Northern Ireland squads.

"We [Cliftonville] are a new team, a lot of new signings, but everybody wants to win the league: that's our aim."

Magee should be back at Windsor Park on Tuesday, but before that the aim is to take at least a point home from Wiener Neustadt tomorrow night and keep alive hopes of finishing in a play-off place again.

"We're not thinking about the Euros…not even thinking about England yet. Austria are a really good side, but if we play as well as we can then anything's possible."

England will be red-hot favourites next week, but Magee insists NI Women can show the improvement of more full-time training in recent months:

"Selling out Seaview [against Austria last year] has had a great impact, more people are wanting to play football.

"We've sold 14,000 tickets for Tuesday, so as long as we keep performing and inter-acting it can only get better.

"We don't want them coming and not enjoying themselves, we want to make it a really good match, so that people want to come and watch us."

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