Meet The Schoolgirl Who's Taking On The Boys At Their Own Game- And Winning
Niamh McKevitt on what it's like to be the only girl in England playing football in the male leagues...
Niamh McKevitt has never been your average football player. Joining her first team at eight, she attracted attention for her talents from the very start.
Today she's the captain of the South Yorkshire Girls under 17s squad, has represented the Republic of Ireland Women at junior international level, and plays for Huddersfield Town in the FA Women’s Premier League.
What's really extraordinary about Niamh however, is her choice of teammate. She’s the only girl in England playing football in the Boys’ league...
"I looked into playing with a boys team when I turned eleven, but realised that it was something I'd thought about doing a bit too late and wrote it off," explains Niamh.
"Then the FA changed the rules when I was 12 for under 13s, so I’d be able to play that season. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I just went for it!"
Going for it paid off. Now at 16, Niamh has been playing with the boys for five years and has just written a book on what its like to be one of the boys on the pitch.
Playing with a boys team brings many different types of experiences, but is there much change in actual technique?
“There’s a big difference between the male and female football, but that's what I really enjoy" says Niamh.
Say my team mate Chris plays badly, its because hes having a bad game- if i play badly its because girls cant play football
“The boys are a lot more physical and as we get older it’s also a lot faster, I think it’s a good challenge because I’m quite fast for a girl."
“In the girls, they don’t really have the leg strength for the 60 yard passes and not a lot of girls have that twitch muscle that gives you that explosive speed.
"That's not to say the girl's aren't as good, the playing is slower in women’s, but I think the ball moves faster because there’s more passing."
While playing comes naturally for Niamh, accepting her as a player doesn't always come so easy for the other boys on the team.
“Training is on a big open field and when I walk across the boys will look over and think, I'm just a new player" Niamh explains. "Then they’ll look again and think that I look a bit like a girl."
"Then when I'm close they realise that I am a girl and they're always all, 'Is that legal? Is this allowed?!"
“When you play well though- as soon as you get your first tackle in if you’re a defender, or as soon as you get the first good shot in as a striker- that’s when they start to see you as a player."
“On the first match, the parents on the side always say "I can’t wait to watch her, to see what she’s like"
"I’m not really skilful though, I’m not tearing through the opposition, I'm a stopper. After the first five minutes they just see me like another player and that’s what I want."
“When the coach addresses the boys too, he calls them lads. The first time i turned up he goes lads- and girl- and made a real point of adding me on.
"As the season went on though, he stopped and just included me in the lads. It might sound stupid, but that makes you feel like you’ve been accepted."
"It's in boys nature to be the most competitive more than it is in girls. When you put girls in that environment however, especially in sports, girls have it in them to be just as competitive."
"Say my teammate Chris plays badly, its because hes having a bad game. If i play badly its because girls cant play football. If Chris gets kicked in the face and cries, its because getting kicked in the face hurts, if i get kicked in the face and cry its because I'm a girl."
"Everything you do, you know you have to prove yourself, every single time you step on the pitch. It's not exactly pressure, but having it there- it does make you step up."
Niamh is paving the way for the next generation of female footballers, but is there enough attention on girls in football?
"I think women's football is going in the right direction," says Niamh. "Since the Olympics in 2012, there's been a quite obvious interest in the women's game."
"I don't think i would have achieved anything that i now have, if i hadn't played with the boys"
"A few years ago if someone said that they wanted to be a professional women's footballer it sounded crazy, but now? It's looking more like a reality..."