Linfield Ladies defender Ashley Hutton has enjoyed a distinguished and trophy-laden career but she has plenty of motivation to keep going.
Now aged 32, the central defender has been a mainstay of the Blues side who have won four successive Danske Bank Women’s Premiership titles and is one of the most experienced players in the division.
Hutton has clocked up a remarkable 105 international caps for Northern Ireland and provided one of the most memorable moments in the side’s recent history as she netted a stoppage time equaliser against Wales in a European Championship qualifier, which also happened to be her 100th international appearance.
“Everybody always asks me about that goal,” laughs Hutton.
“It was a really proud achievement for me to reach that landmark and especially to mark it by scoring such a late and important goal.
“Now we have a really, really strong international setup - probably the best in my time - and we have so much to play for.
“The likes of me, Julie Nelson and Marissa Callaghan have all been around the setup for years and that is what is keeping us going, the quality around us and the possibility of reaching a major tournament.
“I still feel like I have plenty left to give and I am being kept motivated by the young ones coming through, but hopefully I can stay injury free and keep working hard.”
Hutton started her career with Northland Raiders, a girls' club in Newtownards before having her huge talent recognised by clubs across the water.
She spent two years at Arsenal and also had a stint at Leeds United alongside a scholarship in the US and a spell playing in Iceland, before returning to Northern Ireland a decade ago, aged 22.
Hutton initially played with Crusaders before making the move to the Blues in 2012, and she has paid tribute to the vastly improved standard at local level in the years since.
“Half of the last Northern Ireland squad had representatives from the league, which shows the standard we have now,” she added.
“Not only that, but a number of the English and Scottish players also came through our league.
“It is obvious there is strong quality throughout the league - we know Glentoran have so much depth in a group of 18 players who are at such a high level, and then Sion who are a bit more reliant on Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness for scoring goals - they don’t have quite as much depth but a really strong starting XI.
“We have had a disrupted season with players self-isolating for Covid and that has broken the flow, so it has not been easy.”
At club level, Hutton has won four Danske Bank Women’s Premiership titles in succession but that record is under serious threat this season.
The Blues lost 4-1 at home to Glentoran last week - their second defeat to the Glens this season - and have lost a raft of star players in recent times.
Sisters Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness - the club’s two top scorers last season - have joined Sion Swifts, while Chloe McCarron joined Birmingham to follow the exits abroad of stars such as Louise McDaniel, Lauren Perry and Megan Bell.
“At Linfield the mentality is to win every game and when you don’t, it is disappointing,” Hutton explained.
“This season we know things are slightly different as there have been big changes over the past year, with six key players from our team last season having left the club, and we are trying to bed in new players.
“But when you lose at this club it is always painful and we have lost twice to Glentoran this season - last week we held them to 1-1 then the wheels fell off for us in the closing stages.
“Now we need to regroup and come out fighting every single game - we do not want to make it easy for any other club to take that title away from us.
“Anything can happen in the league this season - Crusaders are having a brilliant season and Cliftonville are really competitive too, so nothing is done yet.
“The Glens lost against Sion, and then Sion lost to Crusaders, and we have two games against Sion still to go - so we know it’s not impossible we can bounce back if we hit our potential.”
Despite this season’s struggles, a number of highly talented teenagers are breaking through into Linfield’s first-team this campaign and there is a lot of excitement for the future.
“We have so many exciting young players coming through with huge futures,” the defender continued.
“There are lots of fantastic teenagers at this club who are just a season or two away from being top players in this division, so this campaign might just be a year too soon for this team.
“Our Under-19 and Under-17 levels have plenty of players coming through who have a future not just at this level but for the international side.”
Next up for Linfield is a trip to Crusaders on 14 October.