“How has she only ever played so few times for England?” my dad asked me as we were heading back from a match. “She has 22 domestic trophies under her belt, she should be on a hundred caps at least.”
He’s right. Gilly Flaherty is one of the most successful players in the modern era of the women’s game in England. Her career is comparable to those of Kelly Smith and Alex Scott and whilst they both reached over 100 caps, Gil is still on single figures. Something is not right there.
Gilly was brought in to challenge for Laura Bassett’s place in the squad; the centre back was a natural choice for the role. Having been successful at club level, it was only right that she was given a chance internationally. Brought in by Mark Sampson, she played in some friendlies in China and had a couple of appearances in the She Believes Cup. However, she could not secure a regular place in the lineup.
There are many reasons why I feel that is.
One: she was not favoured by Sampson’s predecessor Hope Powell when many of her contemporaries were, meaning they got their international start far earlier. Take Ellen White for example, whose first cap was back in 2010 whilst she was still at Leeds Carnegie. No major trophies or titles under her belt but still given a chance nonetheless. Steph Houghton, Gilly’s biggest competition for her, spot got her start in 2007.
Which leads me to my second point: the amount of competition for that spot. If I asked you to name the top strikers in the country, the same handful of names would appear. Same with midfielders. However, we are a defensive nation by trade. It can be argued that in the modern women’s game most of our standout players are on the backline, so much so that Mr Neville is forced to play one of the greatest Rightbacks, Lucy Bronze, as a midfielder. That however is a whole other article. Mr Neville has already stated that Millie Bright and Houghton would his permanent choice. With Leah Williamson and Aiofe Mannion barely on his radar, it is going to be even harder for someone with Gilly’s experience level.
My last factor is Gilly no longer plays for one of the ‘Top three’ clubs. Our squad wants only the best and that’s why Mr Neville seems to have concentrated his search on the three teams at the top of each league (the exception being Rach Daly as the Dash is going through some things this season). This however does not account for the array of international talent we have playing for our league. For example, Arsenal is what would happen if you dissolved the Dutch national squad and the Scottish one and mixed the elements back together. Man City’s premier goal scorer so far this season is German and Chelsea is the united nations of football. This gives us thee diversity which I love in the league but it doesn’t make the table a reliable source of judgement.
Gilly is a forgotten Lioness because the team are missing her fight, power and spirit. The combination of Bright and Houghton has been shaky at best the last few matches. They are missing that fire, that passion, that willingness to throw your whole body on the line for your team. Gilly is the last of a certain breed of footballers. The bruiser with the skills to take away any thoughts of thuggery. England has missed a trick without her and seems to continue to do so.
Gilly Flaherty: our lost lioness, but club captain fantastic.