Kerr’s fresh enthusiasm opens up European adventure

THE best things come to those who wait, which is why Shelly Kerr is currently enjoying her lot in life. The Scotland defender is back in the fold after a nine-year break from the game, and proved one of the top performers when Scotland defeated Belgium two weeks ago to put themselves in the driving seat in their European Championship qualifying group.

Only Austria and Wales stand between Vera Pauw’s side and a promotion play-off to the top category of women’s football in Europe, and while no-one is taking anything for granted, least of all Kerr, the Scottish squad are quietly confident. "The best thing is that it’s in our own hands," she says. "We have two difficult hurdles to get over, but we’ve already beaten them, and I think we’ve all taken confidence from our results and there’s a good team spirit."

They face the first of the hurdles, Austria, at Livingston FC’s Almondvale ground at 3pm today, and Kerr knows that they will have a fight on their hands. "At international level, every team we play against is tough, but Austria are a particularly strong, physical side. They are battlers."

Having returned to the fray after her self-imposed exile, the mother of one has plenty heart for a battle. A tough player both mentally and physically, she is good in the air and also with the ball at her feet, and times her tackles well.

Uncompromising and tenacious, she fits the profile of the committed professional sought by the national coach. "I never expected to get back to this level when I started playing again, but now that I am, I appreciate it so much. Playing for your country is a dream, and I know how much I have to give up, like time with my daughter, to train and get to matches, so every win matters to me."

The first of 12 caps came in 1989 when her Scotland room-mate, Donna James, had just started primary school, but despite the age difference, Kerr says she is learning as much from the youngsters as she hopes they are picking up from her. "I think we’ve got a good blend. Most of the girls are a lot younger than me, but while I would always try to help with any problems or offer advice, I try not to act like the granny of the team, and although I am older, most of the others are more experienced than me at this level, so I think we help each other."

Despite combining a full-time job with motherhood and training camps and matches for club and country, even as she approaches her 33rd birthday, she is refusing to consider retirement. Loving the fact that the game she returned to is infinitely more professional on and off the pitch than the one she walked away from, the Guilianos’ defender is desperate to add to her cap count, particularly if Scotland reach the higher echelons.

"I got involved again after I was asked to play in a charity match and, to be honest, in my first season I struggled fitness-wise and decided there was no point in playing if I couldn’t get to the correct level of fitness. But I worked hard and, now that I have made it back into the Scotland squad, I think I would be crazy to give up. I think as long as I’m happy and I’m fit and, obviously, as long as I’m selected, I’m going to keep on going. It does get more difficult as you get older, but I’m not ready to give up playing for my country yet."

After her display against Belgium, most observers will be delighted, but it’s unlikely that the opposition strikers will share in Scotland’s celebrations.