England goalkeeper Mary Earps admitted last September that she thought her international career was ‘probably’ over, before an international call-up set her on a journey that has now led her to this weekend’s Euro 2022 final against Germany at Wembley.
Earps made her senior England debut in 2017 and was part of the squad that finished fourth at the 2019 World Cup, albeit third choice behind Karen Bardsley and Carly Telford.
But despite becoming a fan favourite at Manchester United upon returning to the WSL from a spell at Wolfsburg, she had fallen out of favour at international level and her England career appeared to be at a standstill at the same time as younger talents like Ellie Roebuck and Hannah Hampton were rapidly emerging to fill the void left by the ageing Bardsley and Telford.
By her own admission, Earps’ gut told her that playing at a home Euros was off the table and she decided to throw herself into her club career. But it has been those performances in Manchester United colours, particularly since 2020, that brought the player to the attention of incoming new England boss Sarina Wiegman at the start of the 2021/22 campaign.
Everything suddenly changed. Earps was named in Wiegman’s first England squad last September, starting successive games against North Macedonia and Luxembourg, and hasn’t looked back.
“I never thought this would ever happen,” Earps said earlier this year of her England redemption. “I turned up to that camp [last September] with absolutely no expectations, just going out to train my absolute best every day.”
Luck and timing, as can often be the case, have played a role. Manchester City’s Roebuck, who had been Great Britain’s starter under Hege Riise at the Olympics last summer, spent the first half of the season sidelined through injury. That made Wiegman’s choice easier. But by the time Roebuck had returned to fitness, Earps had grabbed the chance and was the well-established number one.
By the April international break, still three months before Euro 2022 began, Wiegman laid to rest any doubt over her starting goalkeeper for the tournament by publicly backing Earps.
Those who have watched Earps regularly over the last couple of years know how good she is. The 29-year-old is not only an excellent shot stopper, but also an outstanding communicator, a real leader at the back that breathes confidence into any centre-backs playing in front of her.
On any given matchday at Leigh Sports Village while in action for Manchester United, her voice will often be the loudest anywhere in the stadium.
Earps has been crucial on England’s journey this month as well. She didn’t concede in the group stage and was particularly key to the semi-final win over Sweden, making two top saves during the game to deny Stina Blackstenius – one with the score-line at 0-0 and another at 2-0.
The save at 2-0, spectacularly tipping a Blackstenius header over the bar, stopped Sweden getting back into the game. Moments later, Alessia Russo had scored her incredible backheel to put England 3-0 up and in full control. Without Earps in that defining moment, it could have been so different.
“Mary made a save at a key moment in the game which was incredible – an incredible turning point for us,” captain Leah Williamson said afterwards. “We go up the other end and score and that’s what the team’s about. Two opposite ends of the pitch and everybody’s making it count. I think that moment deserves a shout out.”
Back in March, Earps told 90min that this year had already been the ‘wildest’ of her career to date.
“…the noisiest and the most excitable – like the highs are high, and I feel like people are interacting and engaging with the game so much more,” she said at the time.
Fast forward to July and on the eve of a European Championship final, it’s about to get even wilder.
For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!