For Gilly Flaherty, Arsenal Ladies’ trip to Sardinia is the perfect opportunity to show the team has the mental toughness to go all the way in the Women’s Champions League.
Shelley Kerr’s side go into their quarter-final second leg against ASD Torres in control of the tie, after goals from Kelly Smith, Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little helped secure a professional 3-1 win at Meadow Park last week.
Sandy Maendly’s late strike in that game gave the Italian champions hope, and Flaherty is expecting a battle at Vanni Sanna Stadium as the Ladies hunt a place in the last four of the tournament for the third successive year.
“We're really looking forward to it,” the defender told Arsenal.com. “We know what to expect and how they play. We're in a good position but we know there's still 90 minutes to go so we need to go over there and perform as well as we know we can.
"We know what the fans are going to be like. We don't expect to go over there and have things rosy"
“It’s difficult in regards to the atmosphere and the pressure that is on us. But we thrive off that pressure. It brings out the best in us and that's why we are good as we are and why we've won what we have in the past.
“We know what the fans are going to be like. We don't expect to go over there and have things rosy. They will get on our backs and will try to put us under pressure. We know they're going to be a massive factor but we can't let them determine or control what we do on the pitch.
“It can make you or break you. We've got a lot of players who have played in front of big crowds and big tournaments. They can handle it. We've gone to games abroad where fans have thrown coins at us.
“It's just about dealing with it and keeping our focus on the game. I love it when fans are against us because it makes me step up my game.”
There was an altogether different kind of fan pressure on primary school PE teacher Flaherty in the first leg at Meadow Park, with a group of her pupils watching on from the sidelines.
"They saw me signing autographs and said that they didn't realise how lucky they are to have a footballer come in and take their PE lessons"
It was fitting then that, in front of the schoolchildren, the 21-year-old was handed the captain’s armband after injury forced Smith from the fray in the first half.
“I'm honoured every time I've been asked to captain the girls,” Flaherty smiled. “Especially with my pupils there, it was nice for them to see it.
“It was lovely to have them there. I'm a primary school PE teacher and I teach some of the kids all year round. For me to show them what I do as another job was great.
“They've seen me in a different light and have been on their best behaviour this week because of watching me play. They said afterwards that they see me differently now. They saw me signing autographs and said that they didn't realise how lucky they are to have a footballer come in and take their PE lessons.
“I had to be professional with them there and make sure that I was on my best behaviour as well. They're giving me less grief now, which is good!”
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