'It's anyone's dream': Neve Herron on her Sunderland journey, Championship life so far and next steps

It is, without a doubt, a footballing road less travelled.

Sunday, 24th October 2021, 3:00 pm

But it's one that gives you plenty of insight into Neve Herron's game, and underlines why she has quickly become an integral part of Mel Reay's plans at Sunderland.

The 18-year-old has started every game so far this season, initially impressing in a central midfield role.

When Reay looked to reshuffle the pack for the visit of Durham Women, Herron was given a new test on the left wing.

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Neve Herron in action against Durham Women

By half time, injury meant a switch to centre-back and an assured performance there led straight into another, a penalty shootout win over Sheffield United in the Continental Cup.

This, Herron tells The Echo, is nothing new.

To say she takes it in her stride ​is an understatement, a key part of her game that has already brought international recognition in the youth setup.

'"It's always been a part of my game,” she says.

Neve Herron signs autographs for supporters

“Ever since I was younger I've never really had a fixed position.

“It's good to have, and it's definitely not something new!”

The main thing, Herron says, is just being on the pitch.

“Sometimes it's hard because you want to be the best in one position, but my motto is, as long as you're on the pitch,” she explains

“I like the challenge of playing the different roles, and it was a nice little challenge going centre-back against Sheffield.

“I'm still young so the main thing is just progressing as a player and then probably in years to come [might settle on one].

“I'll just figure it out as I'm going!

“I enjoy it anywhere, to be fair.”

That penalty win over Sheffield United sent Sunderland into the current international break on a high, and underlined a positive start to the campaign.

The Black Cats are without a win in three in the league but most importantly, the points total remains solid and the gap to the lower end of the table significant.

This is a transition season for a young squad, with Herron one of a number who are playing at Championship level for the first time.

It’s a step up they’ve handled well thus far and Herron already feels her game is improving as a result.

“I think it's just a lot quicker, and it's also a lot more physical,” Herron reflects.

“Individually it just helps me a lot more, I think I have to play a lot quicker is already making me a better player.

“The pace of the game is the difference you notice most.

“As a team I think overall, it's probably gone better than we could have expected,” she adds.

“We had a plan in place at the start of the season, targets that we'd set.

“It's a big jump for a lot of the team because we've got quite a young squad. Overall I think it's gone quite well so far.

“I think as a squad we were ready for it.

“The club has obviously been quite unlucky in previous years with not getting promoted sooner.”

It has added significance for Herron, one of many who have come through the RTC system and for whom Sunderland is far more than just the team they represent.

A long-time fan of both teams at the club, every weekend is a special one for Herron and her family.

“It's anyone's dream, really, to play for the club you support,” she says.

“It's always a nice feeling pulling the shirt on at the weekend, and you know your full family is on the sidelines, supporting our club.”

Herron’s rise underlines the importance of promotion last season and sustaining that progress; ensuring the platform is there for the talent in the region.

“I think it's great for the younger ones in particular, the girls in the RTC set up, knowing that we're slowly getting back to where we once were,” she says.

“Keira [Ramshaw] has obviously been here for the full thing so she knows what it's like at the top, and she tells stories of the Super League days and what it's like.

“It makes you want to be in that league, competing at that level and saying that football is your job.

“It's definitely something that I want to do.

“But to be honest, I just take every game as it comes, try and perform at my best every week, prove myself within the squad.”

Next up is Charlton Athletic, a side whose recent form perhaps best sums up the unpredictability of the second tier.

They had been surging up the table before becoming unstuck against Lewes in their most recent game, leaving Durham’s position at the top for now secure.

It’s a tough test for Reay’s side, but one they have no reason to fear.

So far this season the margins have proven remarkably fine right across the board.

“It's always what you want, to get a positive result going into the international break and coming back into a league game away at Charlton next week,” Herron says.

“The good thing is that we had a change in personnel and it just showed that whoever comes in, the squad can be really strong.

“I think anyone can beat anyone in this league, and it's very much about who turns up on the day.

“It's good going into games with positive attitudes, we all want to win and prove a point in this league.”

One thing you can guarantee is that along the way, Herron will be on the pitch somewhere.

That’s what it’s all about, after all.

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