Casey Howe has had a memorable season, winning the NIFL Women’s Premier League with Linfield and playing a starring role for Northern Ireland Under 19s as they qualified for the next stage of the Women’s Under 19 European Championships.

The 17 year old Enniskillen Royal Grammar School student was a key member of the Linfield squad that took the title on the final day of the season, with Casey finishing the campaign as the team’s third top goal scorer playing mainly in a number 10 role behind the main striker.

“I feel this season has gone really well,” she admitted. “In the first couple of games I was establishing myself but now I start most weeks. I have scored 12 goals which is pretty good for my first season of senior football, and I feel like the team have really brought me in and encouraged me to improve and do well. They have taken me under their wing and helped me.”

Casey started her footballing career at Ballinamallard and played in the boy’s youth teams before making the move to Linfield at the age of 13.

As she moved through the ranks she captained both the U17 and U19 squads and was the league’s top goal scorer in both age groups as she won NIWFA U19 Player of the Year two years in succession. She made her breakthrough into the senior team just weeks after her 16th birthday at the end of the previous season, and played a key part in pipping Sion Swifts to this season’s top honour. The team lost only one league game all season, losing out in the final of the Irish Cup to Glentoran but edging out Sion Swifts on goal difference in the league after a nail biting climax to the season.

“We always knew Sion were going to be tough this season with the players they brought in but we just kept focused,” said Casey. “We knew we had a job to do and we kept level headed and worked hard for it. There were points in the season where they were ahead of us because when we were in the Champions League they played a couple of games and we had a few games in hand. We were under pressure to win them but we knew what we had to do and we went out and did it.”

In a season packed full of high points for Casey, it was that experience against Europe’s best club sides that stood out.

“I have enjoyed the whole season but playing in the Champions League was probably the highlight,” she acknowledged. “We got our first three points in Europe against PAOK from Greece. I played 70 minutes of that match and it was a great experience.”

Away from her club, Casey has also been making a name for herself on the International scene. She was a member of the Under 19 squad that has progressed to the next stage of the qualification for the Under 19 European Championships.

“The international season has been good so far,” she said. “I am just back from our qualifiers where we won two out of three games against Wales and Moldova and then got beaten by Norway. On a personal level I felt like I performed very well. I got four assists which was joint second in the whole competition so far. I’m pretty happy with that.”

The Northern Ireland squad are now awaiting the draw for the next qualification stage, where they will have to top their mini group to make it to the tournament finals, but Casey’s performance for the underage team have already caught the eye of the senior coaching team and she has recently been called up to train with the senior squad. It is another step along the path towards Casey’s dream of professional football. The recent increased profile of the Women’s game has helped open up new opportunities for players from Northern Ireland with her teammates Lauren Perry and Kelsie Burrows rewarded for their performances this season with contracts with Blackburn Rovers. They are the latest players to have been recruited to the professional game in England, after Megan Bell joined Durham and Sion Swifts midfielder Tyler Toland was signed by Manchester City.

It is a path Casey would love to follow as she targets a long term career in the game.

“My long term goal is to play professionally so I want to keep working my way towards that and hopefully that will happen,” she said. “Now that I have established myself in the team I want to keep my head down and work hard and try to score more goals this season and improve.

“I’m hoping to go over and play in England somewhere. I think the World Cup has really raised the profile. A lot more people are watching the women’s game now. After the World Cup, Man United played Man City and there was something like 30,000 people at that. It has really taken off and hopefully it keeps rising and rising.”