Lauren Perry: NI keeper Perry hopes for bright future

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Perry hopes to inspire the next generation
Women's Premiership League Cup final
Venue: Seaview, Belfast Date: Friday, 29 June Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Live coverage on the BBC Sport NI website and the red button

In 2015 England's women came within minutes of reaching the World Cup final.

Only a cruel injury-time own goal sent Japan through to the showpiece event against the USA.

By that stage though, England's run through the tournament had captured the imagination of those watching back home.

If not quite a seminal moment, the 2015 World Cup certainly propelled women's football into focus in England in a way that it hadn't been before.

In Northern Ireland the women's game is not yet at the same level as it is across the water but it is certainly on the rise.

Last year the Women's European U19 Championship was held in Northern Ireland and was widely regarded as a successful tournament.

Over 4,000 people watched from the stands as the hosts took on eventual winners Spain at Windsor Park on the opening day.

One of the players who took to the field that day was 16-year-old Lauren Perry, marking the start of a whirlwind year for the teenage goalkeeper, now 17.

She has since played in the Champions League with Linfield Ladies, is a regular in Northern Ireland's senior squad and secured pretty much a clean-sweep during awards season.

The Ulster Women's Player of the Year, NI football awards Women's Football Personality of the Year and NIFL Player of the Year appears to have enjoyed the last 12 months.

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Lauren can make the professional game - Alan Perry

"I was just honoured to win them really," says Perry.

"It was nice to see that all the hard work in training has paid off. Winning awards is great, but now I need to keep progressing and see where I can go."

Short term, the next goal is to secure another piece of silverware with Linfield in Friday's night league cup final against Cliftonville.

The reigning Premiership champions can also look forward to European football in August, including a visit from Dutch giants Ajax.

With the NI Football League taking over the running of the women's league in 2016, new opportunities of exposure and coverage were brought into the local game.

Perry believes that the standard of the league is improving as a result of the increased investment, and is in turn helping see a change in attitude among the wider audience.

With more exposure comes more responsibility, and despite her own tender years, Perry is only too happy to be charged with setting a standard for young players to follow.

"Being a role model is unreal. I want to inspire them and show them what they can become," she says.

"It's a nice feeling knowing that there are people watching you and looking up to you. It makes you want to progress and get better."

A family affair

Lauren is not the only member of the Perry family to be prominent in women's football in Northern Ireland - her father Alan is assistant coach at Linfield Ladies.

While Lauren may have announced herself to a wider audience this year, Alan has been well aware of his daughter's talent for a long time.

"It comes down to her and the dedication and commitment she shows. She can only improve because she always wants to improve," he says.

The balance between father and coach is sometimes a hard one to find but the pair have found boundaries between football and home life.

These boundaries allow Alan to sit back and enjoy watching what his daughter is achieving.

"I'm not afraid to admit there was a tear in my eye when she walked out at Windsor Park, it was something I'll never forget.

As a parent it's one of those moments in your life that you'll treasure forever."

As women's football continues to grow, so too does the opportunity to turn professional.

Perry, who has achieved so much in just as year, is setting her sights on the next step.

"I've always wanted to be professional, that would be a big thing.

"Winning awards is great but now I need to keep progressing and see where I can go."