Megan Campbell’s comeback could hardly be better timed ahead of today’s FA Cup Final, writes Liam Mackey.
To even be in with a shout of featuring in today’s FA Cup Final at Wembley is quite an achievement for Irish international Megan Campbell.
The Drogheda-born defender joined Manchester City in February of last year but, following a cruel run of injury setbacks, it’s only very recently that she has been able to stake a claim to a place in a team which, brimming with international players, goes into today’s big game against Birmingham City as reigning league champions and League Cup holders.
Successive ligament and quad injuries kept Megan out from March to June of last year and, no sooner had she got back on her feet – getting three games with City under her belt in July – than she rolled her ankle in training, tore the ligament off the bone and had to undergo surgery. The result? Another long spell in rehab which kept her sidelined from August through to January of this year.
“I wouldn’t wish a serious, long injury on anyone,” says the 23-year-old. “But the support I got at City and from family and friends was unbelievable and now I feel I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. As people say, good things come from bad situations. Hopefully, my bad luck has disappeared and I’m on a positive run now.”
Certainly, with today’s FA Cup Final in mind, her comeback could hardly be better timed. In City’s last three games, she has come off the bench twice and, against Bristol City last Tuesday, began the game and lasted 60 minutes – the first hour of competitive action she had seen in eight months. “That for me was an achievement,” she says, “just to be back on the grass with the girls again, enjoying football.”
In fact, she did more than simply get back on the pitch: she was hailed as a “super sub” last weekend by helping City come back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 against Reading and then, against Bristol, was again directly involved in one of the goals in a 3-0 win.
“To have three assists in two games and play all those minutes, I think I’ve done all I can to get in the squad for the final,” she says.
Those assists came in the form of the prodigious long throws for which Campbell, who can play at left-back or centre-half, is renowned. But awesome as her guided missiles are, she doesn’t care to be regarded as a one-trick pony.
“I could just do it since I was a kid,” she says. “And as I grew, it got longer. Playing for Ireland and at my clubs, it’s been used as a set-piece almost. It’s not a bad asset to have but being here at City, right across all the teams at the club, the philosophy is the same: they like to get the ball down, pass it and play pretty football and that’s how we’re drilled to play. The long throw is something you can turn to if you’re chasing a goal but, for me, it’s nice to know that you’re at Man City because of your football talent. It’s okay to be known as ‘the girl with the long throw’ but I’d also like people to say, ‘she can also play football.”
A tactical philosophy is not the only thing shared by the teams at Manchester City: the women’s side is fully integrated into the club and, according to Megan, want for nothing.
“We get the equivalent of what the men get,” she says, “the same access to physios, nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches, the gym. And, in the academy, there are 15 pitches that are all of top quality standard. The set-up is unbelievable.
“When we play for the club with the crest on our jerseys, it’s Man City you’re playing for, it’s not Man City women. Everyone in this club wants all the teams to succeed. It’s not ‘you’re the women’ and ‘we’re the men’. And that’s such a good thing to have within a club.”
The same could hardly be said previously of her experiences at international level, which is why the Irish women’s team felt obliged to take their headline-grabbing stand last month. Having succeeded in extracting better terms and conditions from the FAI, Campbell believes the squad, under new manager Colin Bell, can now move forward with no distractions to undermine their sense of purpose.
“Definitely,” she affirms. “I think it was something we needed to do as a team and a squad. Everybody saw the unity we had and that we were fighting for the same thing. It was all about wanting to see women’s football grow in Ireland and was really more for future teams than for ourselves. It was great to see the way everyone was egging us on to succeed and, now that we have, I think the emphasis can go back onto the football. It’s time for us now to prove ourselves on the pitch, to use everything that we asked for and were given to help us get the results we need when the World Cup qualifiers start in September.”
Megan Campbell is the granddaughter of Eamonn Campbell of Dubliners fame but, she insists, has most definitely not inherited his musical talent.
“I got the musical genes in my feet,” she laughs. Although always supportive of her career, her granddad won’t be able to be in Wembley today but her father is flying over for the game and other relatives and friends in England will also attend.
Megan has already notched up some significant achievements over the course of a career in Ireland, the US and England but the final of the FA Cup – a trophy City, who are favourites today, have yet to win – has a special appeal.
“It will be up there with being at the World Cup with the U17s (in 2010), with my first senior cap and playing Euro qualifiers with the senior team,” she says. “It’s the biggest competition in England and to be played on such a stage, at Wembley, in front of a record crowd – they’re talking about 40,000 – and on live television, I don’t even think it’s hit me how big an occasion it will be.
“And having been out for so long and had what I would call a rubbish start to my career at Man City, to have this as a pinnacle moment at the club would be great for me. Fingers crossed I get on the grass.”
Today’s Women’s FA Cup Final will be shown live on BBC 2. Kick-off is at 5.15pm.
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