Kirk Redefining Everton Expectations

Willie Kirk says Everton’s FA Cup final meting with Manchester City on Sunday represents a significant juncture on his team’s path to consistently competing for silverware.

Manager Kirk’s team stunned Chelsea in a Goodison Park quarter-final before defeating Birmingham City to reach this weekend’s showpiece – and advance to the “last step” of Everton’s 2019/20 journey.

Everton set out to finish in the Women’s Super League top half and secure a Wembley date in advance of the campaign.

Prevailing circumstances have dictated the cup competition reaching its climax behind time – but Kirk insists victory this weekend can usher in a sustained period of Everton success.

“We are breeding a group of winners and Sunday can be a launchpad for success in the next five years,” said Kirk.

“We spoke about the objectives for the season at the start of 2019/20 and they were to finish in the top half of the league and get to Wembley.

“We were adamant we would get there and remained focused and determined all season.

“We managed the top-half finish (Everton finished sixth)… this is the last step of that journey.

“I sowed that seed and the players nurtured it and let it grow.

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03:12

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“The players felt when this competition was resurrected it was written in the stars [they would reach the final].

“We did fantastically well against Chelsea and the belief grew and grew.

“The challenge for me is to make sure we are not happy just being at Wembley because we have reached our objectives.

“We want to go one better.

“There is no point going to Wembley unless you’re going to win.”

Everton have coupled their Cup run – the competition picked up at the quarter-final stage last month – with a tremendous start to their 2020/21 WSL campaign.

A team fortified by the summer additions of seven high-calibre performers – following the winter transfer window arrivals of England star Izzy Christiansen, goalkeeper Sandy MacIver and Hayley Raso, the Australia international forward formerly with Brisbane Roar – is undefeated in its opening five games and sitting second in the table.

Preparations for the national stadium showdown with City have been stilted, with Everton last in action when they drew with Brighton & Hove Albion a fortnight ago.

A number of players represented their countries in the intervening period, with Kirk relieved to declare a clean bill of health after the last of his internationals returned on Wednesday.

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05:30

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He insisted gun striker Valerie Gauvin playing all but 14 minutes of France’s two European Championship qualifying matches would work in his side’s favour – the games providing the recent arrival from Montpellier with a chance to hone her “fitness and sharpness”.

Equally, Kirk expects Gauvin to enter Sunday’s contest with a spring in her step after claiming the world record for the fastest goal in women’s international football with her 10-second strike in France's 11-0 mauling of North Macedonia last Friday.

MacIver and Christiansen – an FA Cup winner with Manchester City in 2017 – meanwhile, were back in the Everton fold sooner than anticipated following the cancellation of England’s friendly in Germany on Tuesday.

“Izzy is absolutely essential to what we are trying to grow at the Club,” said Kirk.

“We are trying to grow a group of winners and be successful.

“Izzy has been there and done it.

“Her experience every day is huge, never mind for a one-off occasion like this.

“Some of the new signings have come from European leagues where they’ve won titles.

“But Izzy is really important in developing that [winning] mindset.

“She is just as excited as the players who haven’t won the tournament and is desperate to play a major part in this club being successful again.

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04:02

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“We have to play at our absolute best levels to get success on Sunday.

“There is pressure on us because we spoke about getting to Wembley… now we have cranked that up and said, ‘Let’s win it’.

“The week has been a bit different but two days preparation on the training pitch will be enough.

“You can do too much and it can be hyped up too much.”

Kirk was appointed in December 2018 and immediately oversaw an upturn in results.

He steadily added to those foundations, identifying a talented core already at the Club and introducing hand-picked new signings.

To land Everton’s first major trophy since the 2010 FA Cup, the Scot’s team must overcome a City side Kirk describes as “serial winners”.

They are the Cup holders after sweeping aside West Ham United in the 2019 final and in the past six years have won one WSL title and three League Cups.

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05:40

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“We are determined to get back to the days of Everton winning silverware and this is huge for us” continued Kirk.

“It would be even bigger managing to topple one of the teams who are serial trophy winners.

“But winning it, regardless of who it is against, would be massive for this club.

“The focus is on the players, making sure they are prepared and in a good head space and have the platform to perform on Sunday.

“When I came to the Club it was about recruiting well, getting short-to-medium-term results, then ramping up recruitment and developing the players we wanted here on long-term basis.

“To get us to the stage where we felt we could compete for trophies.

“That process is nowhere near finished but competing for a cup is a nice juncture in that journey.

“We are grateful to have the chance to finish this competition and, hopefully, win it.”