Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh experienced very different paths to becoming regulars at Manchester City Women, the latter arrived in 2014 as a teenager from Blackburn Rovers, whilst Bronze was a double FA Women’s Super League champion with Liverpool Ladies.
Both are set to walk out at Wembley on Saturday evening as City make their debut appearance in the calendar’s showpiece event, facing Birmingham City Ladies seven months after defeating them 1-0 in the Continental Cup final, where Bronze scoring the winner.
The 25-year-old right back has cemented her status as one of the best full backs in world football with an array of impressive performances and big game goals for both club and country, and walked out at Wembley in 2014 when the Lionesses faced Germany in the first women’s international to be held at the national stadium.
20-year-old Walsh on the other hand admits she’s never even set foot in the stadium.
“I’m looking forward to it, I’m excited and I know my mum’s excited to go to Wembley. It’s such a big occasion and I know the fans have put a coach on so we should have a good crowd behind us,” she said.
“We’re all excited, we haven’t reached the final before but we’re trying to not be too emotional about it and stick to how we would prepare for every other game.”
Despite accumulating a collection of silverware which includes three FA WSL medals, a World Cup bronze medal and a Continental Cup, plus a range of individual awards including Manchester City’s player of the year, England’s player of the year and now two PFA Players’ Player of the Year awards, Bronze hasn’t played in an FA Cup final for eight years.
“I played in it once when I was younger for Sunderland,” she said, before adding it would rank highly among her achievements to date. “It would be a big one, definitely a big one. I’ve won quite a bit already but never the cup.
“It’s Wembley, the national stadium, I’ve played there for England but to play in a competitive match with a trophy up for grabs is huge. I want to get my hands on it and I know the club are just as hungry to win it too because it’s the one we’re missing.”
Whilst manager Nick Cushing will be keen to not let his players get carried away by the occasion, Bronze admits it’s hard to not get fixated on the day and the location.
“The tunnel is twice as big, the changing rooms are twice as big, everything’s twice as big.”
She added, “The pitch is similar in reality but it looks so much bigger when you walk out, Nick won’t want us to get carried away but we want to play in the biggest games. Carli Lloyd wants to play in the biggest games, Steph Houghton wants to play in the biggest games, it’s pressure filled and that brings out the top players and the top teams.”
For Walsh, it’s been a whirlwind few years, from being an unknown striker at non-FA WSL side Blackburn Rovers, Walsh has turned herself into one of the most talented young midfielders in the country and has earned praise from all quarters for her impact on City’s team after returning from injury last summer.
Joining the club in 2014, Walsh became a regular soon after and signed her first professional deal after turning 18 in 2015. It’s a period of time Walsh describes as “surreal” but like her most experienced team mate, she’s not getting carried away.
“I try not to think about what people say or let it get to my head, I’ve got to keep my feet on the ground, listen to what the players say and listen to what the manager says.
“You can’t let yourself get too ahead of yourself in this game, it’s easy when the media are saying so many things but I just want to focus on winning more trophies.”
Both players are expecting a tough match having gone the whole 120 minutes in last year’s Continental Cup final, as well as playing out a 1-1 draw with the same opposition just last week in Manchester.
With Walsh able to dictate play from midfield and Bronze happy to bomb back and forth along the right wing, the Wembley pitch could suit both players down to the ground.
Walsh said, ” I’m hoping we have a lot of possession so I can put my influence on the game, the obvious thing is the big pitch so maybe both teams will have to attack a bit more.
“Birmingham are organised defensively and they’ve made some great signings this season – we know they’ll be tough to beat.
Bronze also believes the expansive pitch should help her put her mark on the game, but reveals it was a pre-match pep talk from England team mate Alex Scott that is responsible for her starting to shoot at goal more often.
“They’ve been playing three at the back at times and I know from personal experience that it’s hard, especially on a big pitch. We like to play expansive football, I’m a right back but you see me on the edge of the opposition box.
“I like to get forward, I used to pass it when I got there but in Canada it was Alex Scott who said to me, ‘You’re always up there, I know you can shoot, you’re not bad at it’. Then two days later I hit the goal everyone talks about against Norway and now I think she wasn’t wrong, I can score.
It’s less than two weeks since Bronze picked up the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award for the second time, becoming the first player to do so.
And whilst also reserving place for Birmingham’s Jess Carter, who won the PFA Young Players’ Player of the Year award, Bronze admits it hasn’t really sunk in yet.
“It’s really special because it’s players from other teams writing your name down,” she said. “It’s always a huge honour and it never really sinks in for me as a defender, you don’t expect that recognition for defending.
“Jess really deserves it too, I didn’t know her really but I got speaking to her on England camp and I quite like her, she’s funny and she’s a really good player, she can be twice the player she is now.”
So, what would success on Saturday mean to the pair and their team mates? Many great players and managers have walked the famous Wembley steps over the years, some only to walk past the trophy whilst others have been there to collect the spoils.
“It would be unbelievable, absolutely surreal,” said Walsh. “It’s the biggest trophy in England, it would mean a lot to us because we haven’t won it yet.
“I’ve got friends from England camp on the other side but there won’t be any friends once we’re on the pitch!”
Bronze just hopes Manchester City end the day as the winners. “At the end of the day it would mean a lot to win but it’s just one game, it could absolutely either way.
“Birmingham have beaten big teams, strong teams to get here and they’re not going to go out without a fight.”
Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh were speaking on behalf of SSE, official sponsor of The SSE Women’s FA Cup. Kids Go Free to the May 13th Final and tickets are still available via TheFA.com/Tickets.