When Megan Campbell stepped out onto the Wembley field as part of the starting lineup for Manchester City in their 4-1 Women’s FA Cup Final win over Birmingham City Ladies, it brought to an end a year of injury struggles and frustration.
The Ireland international turned heads when she rocked up at the Academy Stadium last year, appearing in a friendly against FC Rosengard as a trialist, having decided not to enter the 2016 NWSL College Draft.
The Florida State graduate was a standout in the US college system, with NWSL clubs queuing up to sign her. A first College Cup victory in FSU’s history in 2014 over much fancied Virginia, only increased her stock value.
But after signing for City not long after that first appearance against Rosengard, the journey has been a bumpy one. Injuries and niggles have meant that Campbell has been restricted to the occasional appearance here and there, with surgery also necessary.
With City’s squad depth, and with in form defenders like Abbie McManus and Jen Beattie competing for a place alongside captain Steph Houghton, Campbell will have been hoping to simply be part of the squad.
However, at City’s Academy Stadium on Friday, she not only learnt that she would be part of the squad, but would actually be starting.
“We were doing a training session and the coach named the side so we could work on set pieces and stuff like that,” she said.
“To be honest I didn’t expect it at all. I thought if I get in the squad it’s a bonus because I’ve been out for so long. And then when he named Campbell along the back, I think my heart nearly dropped, I did not expect it.”
Campbell’s surprise is certainly not false modesty. City had knocked out Reading Women, Bristol City Women and Liverpool Ladies on their journey to the final, and the Ireland defender had not featured in any of those matches.
But she was not overawed, far from it. Playing alongside captain Houghton, she was calm and composed, and while she was steady at the back, her influence further up the field would soon lead to City going ahead.
Much has been said about Campbell’s ability to launch the ball into the box from her long throw-ins, but it would be wrong to pigeonhole her for that alone. The young defender has a wonderful left-foot, and it was her delivery into the box that led to Lucy Bronze giving City the lead from her free-kick.
Campbell would again be on the assist sheet, as she crossed for City’s third, which was met by Carli Lloyd.
Despite the excellent service provided, she said it is not something she has to work on in training.
“Thankfully I don’t have to do much with that,” she said.
“But it’s nice to be able to use the ball with my feet as well as my hands.”
Campbell won the domestic competition, the FAI Cup, back in Ireland with Raheny United before heading off to college in the United States.
While that achievement should not be underestimated, the FA Cup is widely considered the best domestic cup competition in the world, and for Campbell to win a medal in her first competitive appearance, is a pretty special accomplishment.
With the injuries along the way and stop start time she’s had at City so far, she acknowledged that this was a moment she would cherish.
“Personally being out injured and being able to cone back and help the team to this victory was a phenomenal feeling.
“For the last year I’ve struggled to keep my fitness, getting a niggle, then getting another injury and then having to have surgery.
“Eventually getting back onto the grass has been a nice feeling. I’ve been building up minutes, and today thankfully I got 75, but by the end I was feeling it.”
“But it’s an unbelievable feeling.”