Sam Tierney tells The Star's James Shield what it means to represent her country and how the exploits of Chris Wilder's squad are inspiring Sheffield United Women.
Sam Tierney was reclining on the sofa at home in Totley when she first discovered the news.
Her coach was aware. Likewise her team mates. But, after spending much of the evening in blissful ignorance, Sheffield United's gifted midfielder finally deciphered the clues: Together with fellow squad members Bex Rayner and Ellie Fletcher, she had been summoned to attend a training camp with England's under-21's.
"The notification got sent-out by email," Tierney remembers, describing the moment her call-up was confirmed. "But because I'd been busy, I hadn't bothered to check my phone. I'd been to training and nobody mentioned it so it wasn't until I got back, and wondered what all the 'congratulations' on our group chat were about, that the penny finally dropped."
While the exploits of Oliver Norwood, John Egan and Enda Stevens will dominate Bramall Lane's headlines during the international break, coupled with Dean Henderson's performances for England's Young Lions, recent events surrounding the women are arguably more significant. Particularly in the case of Tierney who, after returning to the club this summer, became the latest graduate of United's youth programme to be recognised by their country.
The 20-year-old's footballing journey, which began in 2011 when she helped King Ecgbert School win the Football League Girls Cup, highlights the reasons behind United's decision to bring Carla Ward's side under their umbrella. And, despite Tierney's diplomacy, the folly of a situation whereby they used to develop young talent only to see it flourish elsewhere.
"Lots of really good players came through the Regional Training Centre but back then, when we got to 16, we had to go and join another team if we wanted to carry on at a certain level," Tierney, who headed to Doncaster Belles, explains. "We had a really good group and it would have been brilliant if we could all have stuck together and carried on playing as a group. Unfortunately it wasn't possible. It must have been really hard on the coaches, who put so much effort in and did so much good work, as well.
"Now, with things being different, it's brilliant that there's a pathway now for the players in it to flourish and stay 'in house' as it were."
Tierney's presence at Bisham Abbey, where she spent four gruelling days alongside Rayner and Fletcher, not only vindicated the work of Ward and her staff. It was a personal triumph, of patience and perseverance, too. Named in the long squad for August's under-20 World Cup, Tierney admits to being "gutted" when, after setting her sights on travelling to France, she failed to make the final cut.
"That was hard," Tierney continues, "Because I was desperate to go as you can probably imagine. It wasn't to be then but I knuckled down, worked hard, and so it was great to learn that I was back in the fold, back on the ladder, as it were."
"The good thing about England now, and I think this is happening with us and the men, is that there's a real framework in place," Tierney adds. "Phil Neville, who has taken over the senior team, has spoken about it and so, if you do well for the age groups, the chances are you're going to get moved through."
The achievements of Rayner, Fletcher and Tierney should impact closer to home as well.
"I already knew most of the girls there after being involved with England before but it was good to go with Ellie and Bex as well," she admits. "Now, when we've come back, there's three of us passing on the ideas we've picked up and the things we've worked on. So everyone can benefit."
That sense of responsibility, coupled with Tierney's refusal to be disheartened by a set-back, will serve United well as they attempt to plot a course through the FA Women's Championship. Having been granted membership of the revamped division following a successful lobbying campaign, Ward's charges, now officially competing under the club's banner, secured their first victory in it two weeks ago.
"It was important to get that under our belts in the league," Tierney says, reflecting on that 4-1 victory over Aston Villa. "The standard is high and nothing comes easy. But I thought we fully deserved the result."
Although they do not enjoy the same resources as their namesakes from Manchester, who are rumoured to have handed head coach Casey Stoney a £5m budget, Tierney and her colleagues do not have to look far for tips on how to beat the financial odds. Indeed, detailing the methods Ward is employing to knit together a new look squad, it emerges they mirror those which have helped United's men reach the top of the Championship.
"One of the things that's really been put across to everyone is what representing Sheffield United means," Tierney reveals. "I've been here before, in the city itself United is my club so I already know, but it's helped others understand what we're about as well.
"In all our get-togethers, Carla and her team talk about the values of Sheffield United, the history and what you're expected to do when you play here. So, when we go out on the pitch, we have to reflect those in the way we perform and go about things. We know we've got to show that commitment and character. When we see the men doing what they're doing, that's a huge inspiration for us."
Wilder's squad resumes its bid for promotion this weekend with a visit to Derby County. Ward's team are also on the road, facing Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace, before next month's home fixture against Leicester City.
"One of the things I've really noticed is the number of people who watch the men now coming to watch us as well," Tierney smiles. "That's great for us because it shows they know we are part of the club, we're out there giving everything for United, and with all the stuff that's going on behind the scenes, I think it's the start of something really big here."
Carla Ward on the call-ups:
Carla Ward, manager of Sheffield United Women, believes England's decision to recognise Bex Rayner, Ellie Fletcher and Sam Tierney is a significant moment for the club.
The trio, who all started United's maiden victory of the new FA Championship season, attended an under-21's training camp in Berkshire earlier this month after impressing national selectors.
"It's great the them and it's great for the group as a whole," Ward said. "It underlines how well they've been doing, the talent they've got and also the work that's going on here."
Although that was reflected by the presence of three United players at Bisham Abbey, the most tangible measure of United's progress came when they defeated Aston Villa two weeks ago. Awarded a place in the revamped competition by the governing body, Ward's squad received no favours from the fixture planners who pitted them against Durham and Manchester United in their opening two games. Despite entering the match searching for their first points of the campaign, a Sophie Jones hat-trick and Alethea Paul's penalty catapulted United to a deserved 4-1 victory at Bramall Lane.
Ward hailed both the performance and the result but insisted the foundations of the win had been laid two games earlier.
"We faced Birmingham City, of the Women's Super League, in the Continental Cup and although we lost, we pushed them hard and caused the problems," she said. "They've only been beaten once in their opening four matches of the WSL by the way."
"One of the things that's really pleased me is that people haven't been talking about the difficult start we had," Ward added. "What they have been talking about is how we've been playing and how we've been going about things. That shows we've been heading in the right direction. But to get that win was also important, because it reinforces the messages we've been putting across."
The Championship schedule:
After securing their maiden victory of the FA Women's Championship, Sheffield United return to action when they visit Charlton Athletic on October 21 before travelling to Crystal Palace seven days later. Their next home match, at a venue yet to be confirmed is against Leicester City on November 4.
Athletic faced Manchester United yesterday, where Casey Stoney, the former England international, is enjoying the benefits of a budget which dwarfs most rival clubs. But Durham, who beat United on the opening weekend of the season, did hold her team to a goalless draw last month. Palace were also in action over the weekend, facing London Bees in a local derby.