No player across Northern Irish football – either men’s or women’s – represents longevity in excellence quite like Glentoran Women legend Kelly Bailie.
Despite the Glens being back-to-back champions and being packed full of internationals, Bailie – who will celebrate her 42nd birthday at the end of the month – is still one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Few words can do justice to a spectacular career that is now into its 26th season and which has averaged over a trophy per season, and Bailie is not thinking about stopping anytime soon.
“Being part of women’s football right now is really special and I have been so lucky over the years with my career,” explained Bailie, whose long career has seen her play across the pitch but is now regularly played in defence.
“I have always been jokingly asked over whether I’m thinking about retiring and of course its something you think about – but why would you give this up unless you had to?
“I usually gauge it on how the first couple of sessions go and whether I feel I can still compete and offer something to the team.
“As long as I can keep enjoying it and can stay healthy, there is no reason why I should give this up.”
It is not just the numbers and stats that make Bailie’s achievements impressive; women’s football in Northern Ireland has gone up several levels in recent years. Training and fitness are now more advanced than ever, with several of her Glens teammates among the plethora of Danske Bank Women’s Premiership stars who have been in a full-time training setup this year.
“The game is now more intense than it ever has been,” Bailie added.
“There is more pace to matches now and that means that you have to give that little bit extra in training to keep yourself right.
“But this is a very strange season for every club because of the mid-season break and the Euros being in the middle of our normal schedule.
“That has impacted us and Cliftonville a bit more, and it makes it a bit more difficult because you can’t train together as much as you would like to.
“But those who aren’t involved in those Northern Ireland camps have needed to take it upon themselves to up the intensity of training and not let up.
“It is important to give yourself a bit of headspace but without dropping your standards.”
This season is a testing one for Glentoran Women, who lost several star players over the close-season and their two-year hold over the league title is under major threat from a Cliftonville Ladies side who have won all seven of their opening league games.
The Glens are just five points off the pace however, but they must balance their domestic commitments with Champions League football in August – meaning nobody is taking their eye off the ball.
Bailie continued: “We are harder than ourselves than anyone else and we only measure ourselves against the standards we set.
“There have been games where we just have not clicked or played as well as we should have, and everyone in our dressing room knows that and knows the standards.
“It is a long season and it is up to us to regroup in the second half of the season and chase Cliftonville down, there are a lot of games still to play and we know what we are capable of.”
A former Northern Ireland international - and captain - over many years, Bailie could not help but hide her pride and joy at the current exploits of the team in the European Championships.
“The girls have gone out there and their objective was to set their standard and to compete with such incredibly strong teams,” she said.
“What they have achieved and what women’s football in Northern Ireland has gone through is more than most people predicted, so it is a building block to maintain for the future.
“I played at international level with Julie, Ashley and Rachel and I’m so pleased for them that they have remained part of that setup for such a special time.
“Watching the games you have the feeling that you wish you were there, but I am so appreciative of what time I had in that setup.
“When this tournament is over, those improvements and momentum need to keep going forwards to build on this.”
With over 30 medals in her collection, don’t count out Bailie on adding a few more to her haul before her playing career is out.