Mid Ulster Ladies goalkeeper Lilie Crooks is the latest Danske Bank Women’s Premiership star to be named in the Northern Ireland international squad – but she had to double check it was real.
The talented teenager had been involved in Northern Ireland’s full-time training setup earlier in 2022 but has been named in the senior squad for the first time for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Luxembourg and Latvia.
“When I saw my name in the squad in the email that was sent out, I just assumed it was a standby list,” she explained. “And then, I had to read it again to double check.
“It was a proud moment for my family and especially as my grandad passed away in March, and he played such a key role in my football career, so I will always work hard for him – and everything I do is to help make him and the rest of my family proud.”
Woods has no shortage of competition for the Northern Ireland goalkeeper spot, Jacqueline Burns – another Mid Ulster graduate – is first-choice, with Becky Flaherty and Shannon Turner in the Euros squad, with Crusaders Strikers talented shot-stopper Maddy Harvey-Clifford, another young star, also in the mix.
“Me and Maddy are good friends,” Crooks continued. “We will always support each other and push each other on. I think having that competition is beneficial for the both of us. That makes you work harder and push on to achieve the best you can be.”
Crooks is playing in the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership for the first time as Mid Ulster earned promotion this year – and she has been at the club for 14 years, the majority of her life.
“Mid Ulster are such a great club and I love them,” she added. “It has been the club where I have spent my entirely life and I have such a strong attachment to them.
“We knew coming up to the top-flight would be a huge step – we did ok in the first round of games but we knew there was more to come, and we worked really hard over the break to make those improvements.
“Our game against Sion Swifts the other week was a narrow one-goal defeat, and we know we need to keep working hard to close that gap.
“Every game in this division is difficult but we know that we can take points off Lisburn and Derry City – those are the games that are the real benchmark.
Remarkably, Crooks only became a goalkeeper four years ago – a decision which has now propelled her into the top level.
“I started my career as a striker but a few seasons ago our goalkeeper had been unavailable for quite a few games, and our captain had stepped into that position,” the 19-year-old explained.
“Then in the final game of the season, the decision was made that she should go back into the outfield position and I would step in as the goalkeeper – and I really enjoyed it!
“My first proper game as a goalkeeper was a cup final and while we lost the game 1-0, but that was when I knew I would be staying there for good.
“I loved those international training camps and I have no doubt that I want to become a professional during my career and step up to that next level.”
Next up for Mid Ulster is a trip to Lisburn Ladies on Wednesday evening.