Kirby wants World Cup legacy for future generations of English girls
England's women head to the World Cup in France carrying a new weight of expectation to return home winners, but forward Fran Kirby wants a lasting legacy to go with glory in just over a month's time.
Kirby has experienced rollercoaster highs and lows since England claimed bronze at the World Cup in Canada four years ago.
Hailed as her side's "Mini (Lionel) Messi" after scoring against Mexico by then England manager Mark Sampson, Kirby soon found herself a marked woman.
Injuries have been a constant scourge, but when fit Kirby has proved she will be pivotal if Phil Neville's side are to lift England's first major trophy in the women's game.
Neville has even followed Sampson's example by claiming he would rather his number 10 to Brazilian legend Marta, the six-time women's world player of the year.
"She wants to be the best player in the world and with her dedication she can be," said Neville.
That admiration is mutual with Kirby delighted by the former Manchester United and England defender's transition to coaching in the women's game.
"He has put a lot of trust in me as a player and obviously I want to repay him as much as I can," said Kirby. "It is an honour to hear the way he speaks about his players."
Kirby spearheaded Chelsea to a Women's Super League and FA Cup double in 2017/18, picking up the women's player of the year award and a nomination for the Ballon d'Or in the process.
Even that success was tinged with sadness, though, as Kirby revealed this week how she broke down in tears at not being able to celebrate it with her mother, who died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage when she was just 14.
Now 25, Kirby is already a veteran of two major tournaments where England progressed and promised much for the future, but fell short at the semi-finals.
"Everyone is still hurting from the two semi-finals that we lost. We probably feel like we've got work to do in that area," she added.
"We want to make sure we get past that stage this time."
However, Kirby is well aware that there is more than just a World Cup to win in the next few weeks.
- Fight for equality -
Interest in the women's game has never been so high in England. Sponsors are beginning to pour in with Kirby still disbelieving at her own deals and revelling just at the availability of free socks and boots.
"A few years ago the girls had to buy their own boots," she said excitedly at a packed media day prior to England's departure for France.
"It's the little things that we appreciate so much. We had a new pair of socks on our peg and we were like 'look at these, it's amazing'.
"We're still so humbled by everything and still so excited when people want to support and help us."
Rows over equality continue to rage. Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg will not represent Norway due to her ongoing stand-off with the Norwegian Federation, while the world champion USA women have launched a lawsuit seeking equal pay to their male counterparts.
But Kirby believes it is up to her generation to spark even more interest for those who follow to take advantage.
"We want to leave football in a better place than when we came into it," she added.
"When we are not filling out stadiums it is difficult to have that argument (over equal pay). As the women's game improves and progresses then that debate begins to happen.
"The US are having that argument at the moment but they are filling out stadiums, they've won the World Cup, they've got some of the best players in the world in their team.
"They are in a position to do that. We need to win the World Cup to have a leg to stand on in that situation."
The long road to the final in Lyon on July 7 and the legacy Kirby craves begins when England face Scotland to kick off their campaign on Sunday.
? 2019 AFP