Keira Walsh primed for ‘special’ Manchester derby
More than 20,000 people are expected to attend Saturday’s WSL opener.
Manchester City midfielder Keira Walsh admits this weekend’s encounter with Manchester United will be a “special” occasion for her – but has stressed the focus must be on getting a job done.
A crowd of over 20,000 is expected at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday for the first-ever professional women’s Manchester derby as the 2019-20 Barclays FA Women’s Super League gets under way.
Walsh, a lifelong City fan, told the PA news agency: “I think all the girls are really looking forward to it.
“I used to watch the games in the Etihad with my Dad and go with some of my friends, and I remember watching some of the derbies on TV and at the ground. So for me it is going to be a special day.
“But ultimately I am a professional footballer and I have to get the job done on the day and so has the team. I think that is the main thing for us.
“We’ve not really spoken about it being a derby as such – I think we are just trying to concentrate on it being another football game, not get too ahead of ourselves, not get too emotional about the game and just try to concentrate on the way we are going to play and just enjoying it really.
“It is the first game of the season, a big game, and hopefully we can get three points on the board.”
United, last term’s Championship title-winners, are making their WSL debut, having only formed as a professional outfit just over a year ago.
Rochdale-born Walsh added: “I think United being in the top league is a great thing for women’s football.
“It is a recognisable name and I think fans in general will come and watch the derbies. It is exciting – Manchester United against Manchester City, it has always been a top game.”
City boss Nick Cushing echoed Walsh as he said: “It’s going to be a great occasion. We just have to make sure we play a football game and everyone else enjoys the occasion. Ultimately, we have played big games before. We just have to make sure we perform on the day.”
Cushing has guided City to six major trophies, including an FA Cup and League Cup double last season, in which they finished second in the WSL.
He said: “Naturally derbies are really competitive games because locally we want our fans to see our team as the dominant team in the city.
“At the moment in the men’s game our team are dominating, and we want to be the same. We’re proud of the success our women’s team has brought to Manchester City over the last six seasons and we want that to continue. And for that to continue we have to beat Manchester United, for sure.”
Walsh heads into the new season after featuring for England in their run to the World Cup semi-finals in the summer, and for a time it looked as if she might leave City.
“There was a lot of talk about my future over the summer but I sat down with Nick and the club and we spoke through a lot of things,” said the 22-year-old, who made her City debut aged 17.
“I think just from the disappointment of the World Cup… there was a lot of talk about me not potentially playing to my best and not playing great football at the time, and I just wanted to get away from football altogether.
“I kind of expressed that to Nick, and he has been helping me in pre-season get back to just enjoying playing football, and ultimately I want to be here, or else I wouldn’t be here.
“He’s always put faith in me. So I wanted to repay that and show I do want to be here and play for this club.
“I do need to be more consistent and probably a little bit more prolific in front of goal – start scoring and assisting more goals. That is something I have spoken about with Nick again.
“I am more determined than ever to have a good year for City and put in some good performances for this club.”