SUNDERLAND Women manager Mick Mulhern is looking at his young guns to fire his side in the League Cup semi-finals tomorrow ... and go on to bigger things.
The Lady Black Cats entertain Cardiff City in the quarter-finals tomorrow at Eppleton CW (1pm).
Victory will see them one step closer to a second successive final, after lifting the cup with victory over Leeds last season.
And the manager sees no reason why his rising stars can’t follow in the footsteps on England internationals, and former Sunderland players, Steph Houghton and Jill Scott.
Arsenal’s Houghton last weekend won the England player of the year award, with Everton’s Scott third in the voting.
Both developed under the tutelage of Mulhern from young ages through the Centre of Excellence, played for Sunderland and then moved on to play in the top division of domestic football – and have become England regulars.
“I’m obviously very proud of Steph for winning the award and think its thoroughly deserved,” said Mulhern.
“I think both Steph and Jill are fantastic role models for young players country-wide, but especially up here.
“Both have been to our games this season and have been mobbed for autographs and I think that’s fantastic. I coach the Under-17s at the Centre of Excellence now and Jill has visited twice – and the girls loved it.
“In total, there are about 20 girls I have brought through the Centre to play at all levels for England, including Jordan Nobbs who is also part of the England senior squad. I’m proud to have been involved in developing those players – but ultimately it’s about them and their desire to succeed.
“In an ideal world, most of the players we lost to the Super League would come home to play for us one day and I include Lucy Bronze, Lucy Staniforth and Demi Stokes in that group. All were at the Centre of Excellence and are flying in the women’s game.
“The Olympics was fantastic for the women’s game and television coverage of that and England games can only benefit our sport.
“Hopefully the game will go from strength to strength, which I’m sure it will, especially if we are to take our place at the top table in the Super League, which I believe is thoroughly deserved from our success over the last five years or so.”
The latest players moving through the England ranks include forwards Keira Ramshaw and Beth Mead, who are part of the Under 19 set-up.
Mead (17) has scored 19 goals this season and Ramshaw (19) has 13 to her name, while playing in a wide role.
“Keira has been brilliant this season,” said Mulhern.
“And I know England are now looking at her at under 23 level – which is fantastic for Keira and the club.
“I like to think of them as a trio and I include Sophie Wiilliams in that. England also want Sophie in the England set-up but she is happy just playing with us at the moment – but there’s no doubt the three of them could play together and develop for several years to our benefit.”
Mead, though, is a doubt for tomorrow’s quarter-final with an ankle injury picked up while scoring in Sunderland’s 6-1 win against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup.
Skipper Steph Bannon also got hurt against Boro, needing a hospital visit after a clash of heads and suffering concussion. She is doubtful, as is midfielder Kelly McDougall, who has been suffering from a virus.
Cardiff are seventh in the National Premier League but have yet to play leaders Sunderland in the league this season.
“Cardiff are well organised and we know each other well,” added Mulhern.
“They’re better equipped this season and have added to their ranks with valuable experience from the Wales side.”
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