Revitalised Lucy Graham hopes to impress in Spain

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HAVING rediscovered her appetite for football following a summer move from Hibernian to FA WSL club Bristol City, midfielder Lucy Graham hopes a long-awaited second Scotland cap will be forthcoming in the friendlies against Norway and Iceland.

Graham and her team-mates fly out to their La Manga training base tomorrow and will face the Norwegians on Thursday, with the Icelanders four days later. The absence of Arsenal captain Kim Little, despite her remarkably quick return to club football last Sunday, will improve Graham’s chances of getting game time. Both play in the No 10 position.

The death of Graham’s mother Ruth, which the player spoke about with candour in these pages last January, threatened to blow the 22-year-old’s career off course. She learned of the tragedy on her return to Edinburgh Airport with the Scotland squad in October 2017 – and that was to prove her last involvement with the national team until Shelley Kerr reintroduced her for the La Manga friendlies.

The player celebrated her return to international duty last Sunday by scoring from the spot to earn Bristol a 1-1 draw against title chasing Manchester City. She won the penalty herself, something she may be reminding fellow Scot Jen Beattie, who brought her down, during this week.

That made it 11 goals in 15 games since moving to England last July, an outstanding return at any club but especially one that is competing against powerhouses such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Graham plays alongside another Scotland player, Frankie Brown, and former Spartans goalkeeper Eartha Cumings, who joined the club at the same time as Graham. While the 19-year-old, regarded as an outstanding prospect in goalkeeping circles, is having to bide her time, Graham is thriving under manager Tanya Oxtoby. The Australian joined from Birmingham City as replacement for Willie Kirk just prior to the arrival of the two Scots.

“She’s really good,” Graham said. “I took to her as soon as I met her. She’s driven and knows what she wants.”

The box-to-box midfielder, who played 23 games for the Scotland Under-19 side, latterly as captain, and scored seven goals, has found the step up to the full team problematic. She wasn’t afforded any ­opportunities by the previous coaching regime, which rankles, but her time appeared to have arrived when she was given a debut cap in Kerr’s first game, a 3-0 friendly win against Hungary in September 2017.

Then, a month later, her mother died when the squad were in Minsk for their opening World Cup qualifier against Belarus. Graham has no issue about being omitted by Kerr since then, as not only did she withdraw from Hibs’ final games of the 2017 season, but she was unable to recover her old spark in the opening months of 2018.

“Absolutely, my form dipped,” the midfielder admitted. “My mum’s death is still in the back of mind now, but it doesn’t affect me in the same way. I use it to drive me forward, rather than getting me down.”

The other factor in Graham’s resurgence is the switch to professional football. While in Edinburgh she had a part-time job in a supermarket to pay the bills, but that has all changed in Bristol.

“Hibs were great with me and gave me the platform to play but, ­unfortunately, they’re not full time,” Graham said. “You also don’t get the exposure in Scotland that you do here. Improved fitness, including double sessions two days a week, isn’t just about how far you can run. It’s a lot more than that. My whole game has come on.

“I had a taste of full-time football when I went to Sweden [in 2015]. I knew it’s what I wanted and that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and test my potential. I found that ­opportunity here and I’ve justified myself so it has worked in my favour.”

Despite the vast gulf in resources north and south of the border, Graham believes her old club and Glasgow City are both underrated in England.

“I found it fairly easy to adapt at Bristol,” she said. “Scottish football sometimes doesn’t get the credit it deserves. A lot of players have transitioned down to the English league almost seamlessly. Scottish football has given them the background that they can play at this level.”