Martha Thomas watches the ball as Laura Rafferty watches from the ground - Image by Martin Smith/Sports Press Photo

Northern Ireland boss Shiels hails commitment of Bristol City defender in bid to return to fitness

Northern Ireland head coach Kenny Shiels has hailed Bristol City defender Laura Rafferty for being committed to regaining her fitness following long term injury.

The 24-year-old spent the whole of last season on the sidelines after sustaining an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury in pre-season. Rafferty joined Bristol City on a season-long loan deal from parent club Brighton & Hove Albion on the eve of the new season and the player has gone on to make 16 appearances for The Robins in all competitions.

Rafferty’s comeback from her long term injury has been capped-off with a call-up to the Northern Ireland squad following a lengthy absence. The player could play a part in the nation’s historic UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 play-off fixtures against the Ukraine during the next week.

Speaking to FAWSL Full-Time earlier today, Northern Ireland boss Shiels paid tribute to Rafferty for being committed to her recovery programme.

“I have to commend her in her commitment to getting better and her commitment to getting fitter,” Shiels said.

“They (Bristol City) haven’t played her in the last three games. Matt Beard told me that she was doing really well and I watched her against Manchester City. I thought she did quite well but they haven’t played her since (from the start).

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t put her in the team, she is good enough. It is just the match conditioning, she may suffer from the lack of that.”

When discussing Rafferty’s fitness further, Shiels said that the defender has taken some real strides forward this season. The Northern Ireland boss will leave it as late as possible before deciding whether she will make the team to face the Ukraine in the first leg of their play-off tie on Friday.

“She has got more conditioned to play, she has done a lot of work in her post-ACL and it has taken her a long time to get herself back to where she wants to be,” Shiels said. “She is pretty close but we will see over the next couple of days if she is close enough to get into the starting line-up.

“She has worked incredibly hard and she has got herself trimmed down into a state of being ready to play.

“We will be making those decisions over the next 48 hours.”

Northern Ireland’s first leg fixture against the Ukraine takes place in Kovalivka on Friday. Shiels’ side will contest the second leg at Seaview in Belfast on Tuesday evening.

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