FEATURE: Grace Ayre On Her First-Team Breakthrough & Durham Ambitions

The Continental Tyres Cup has already provided some memorable moments for Durham this season.

The home game against Manchester United was one that will undoubtedly go down in history – a sell-out crowd watching the 2-2 draw against the top tier side.

And while the result at Manchester City earlier this month wasn’t as favourable, it was a game that was special for its own reasons.

None more so than the fact that Durham handed opportunities to some of their younger players – with Erin Nicholson, Lily Crosthwaite, Hannah Greenwood and Grace Ayre all featuring.

The performance of the latter certainly caught the eye, with Ayre standing up to the scrutiny posed by a team packed full of internationals.

Ayre was making only her second start for the Wildcats – almost a year to the day since her last one – and put in a composed performance that drew praise from all quarters.

There were several important blocks, tackles and interceptions – which were made even more impressive when you consider the obvious pre-match nerves.

“It’s probably one of the biggest games, if not the biggest game, I’ve played in so far,” admitted Ayre.

“The players we were playing against, they were some of the world’s best. It was mental.

“I was obviously very nervous but it was a good game.

“Before the game and in the build-up I was very nervous.

“But the girls were relaxing and calmed me down before the game.

“I just went out and tried to show what I can do.”

The attacking threats offered by Manchester City were vast – and included England striker Ellen White, the impressive Caroline Weir, an Olympic gold medalist in Janine Beckie and a Champions League winner in Vicky Losada.

The names alone could deter some young players, but Ayre did her best to avoid focusing too much on the opposition.

“I tried to just forget, not look at them and forget who I was playing against!,” explained the defender.

“It only really hit me after the game when we were shaking hands with everyone, who I’d actually just played against.

“It was mad.”

The evening was made even more special for the youngster by the fact she was joined by some of the club’s other up-and-coming talents.

“I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else,’ she admitted.

“I’ve come through the ranks with them all and it’s great that we all got that opportunity together.”

While the result wasn’t the one Durham had hoped for, it proved a useful barometer of the side’s progress when compared to one of the top clubs in the country.

And it was an evening that left everyone involved with the club with one overriding emotion – pride.

“It was 1-0 up until 85 minutes, so with the young team we put out I think everyone can be proud of that result,” said Ayre.

“We were disappointed with the two goals we conceded late on, but we were all proud.”

Now for Ayre, the focus is on pushing for further first-team opportunities in the future.

She regularly trains with the first-team where she can learn from the experience of nous of Sarah Wilson, Becky Salicki, Kathryn Hill, Abby Holmes, Ellie Christon and Lauren Briggs.

“Training with them every single day, it improves you a lot.

“Abby and Wills in that game, having that experience and talking to me constantly throughout the game, that really helped.”

“I hope that I proved that I can compete,” she continued.

“Hopefully I can keep getting opportunities to show myself.”

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