Megan Bell back stronger for Rangers and Northern Ireland
FOR girlhood Rangers fan Megan Bell, taking on Austria in Wiener Neustadt might feel more comforting than a match in the capital Vienna.
The ground for tomorrow night's Women's World Cup qualifier was briefly, bizarrely, known as 'the Teddy Bears and Plush Stadium', the result of a short-lived sponsorship deal.
Bell is back playing with the female 'Teddy Bears' of Glasgow, having become one of many NI female internationals to suffer a length injury absence.
In her was it wasn't 'the dreaded cruciate' but a shin fracture which took far longer to heal than expected, requiring an extremely painful insertion of a metal rod, an operation which was then followed by ankle problems.
The problem arose in May 2020, just months after midfielder Bell had switched to SWPL side Rangers from Durham, having gone to that town's university to start a sports degree.
Bell insisted she has no regrets about that move: "I got my career at Rangers off to a great start, I was scoring and playing well. With Covid in the mix as well it's just been a strange two years, to be honest, the league stopping and starting.
"I never doubted, never thought it was the wrong move, and now I'm back playing I know it wasn't wrong for me to go there and I'm glad I made the decision to go to full-time football, because it's benefitted me in so many ways."
Bell believes she's stronger now, not just physically but mentally: "That was my first injury, I was never injured before. It was valuable for me - not to be injured, but to have the experience, the emotions, and how to deal with the mental side of being injured.
"If I take any positives out of the past two years it's that I'm mentally a lot stronger, and I know my body a lot better than I did before the injury."
A teenage sensation - she made her NI senior debut at just 16 - much has changed over the past five years, but she's sure manager Kenny Shiels can lead them to even greater achievements:
"When Kenny came in we had to learn a new style of football. Kenny instilled a lot of belief into us and I think you can see that, we're playing with a lot of confidence.
"We know we can keep the ball and we can move it, we can really hurt teams. It's been great, we're really enjoying working underneath Kenny and his staff."