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Four Welsh hopefuls earn their places at the top academy; SOCCER: Quartet are bound for Arsenal.

Byline: ESTHER ECKLEY

ONLY 25 of the most talented and gifted footballers are handpicked to attend the prestigious Arsenal Ladies Academy every year.

Girls aged between 16-19 from all over the world apply for a place.

Despite the tough selection criteria and world-class competition, four girls have been picked from Wales.

Eleri Earnshaw from Rhyl, 16, Kelly Davies from Towyn, 17, Milly Durrant from Aberystwyth, 16, and Jo Price from St David's, 16, have all been selected out of 400 young hopefuls to attend the two-year course.

Earnshaw, a speedy striker, started playing when she was seven for the local boys team and had the invaluable support of her coach, Paul Parry.

"The whole family is delighted and pleased at what Eleri's achieved, " says proud father, David Earnshaw, who is also a deputy head teacher at Ysgol y Berwyn in Bala.

"She is a gifted sportswoman and has always been enthusiastic and passionate about football and sports in general.

The good thing about the academy is that she'll be able to combine academic studies with her training every day."

The Ysgol Glan Clwyd pupil has won two senior Welsh caps and, since the age of 11, Earnshaw has played for Wales at under-14 and under-16 level and aims to follow in the famous footsteps of her idol, American Mia Hamm.

"I can't wait to start training and studying at the academy, " says the upand-coming teenager.

"My long-term aim is to go to America and get a scholarship to study in either North Carolina or California. I want to play professionally."

Earnshaw and Davies met when they started playing at Bangor's School of Excellence at 13.

From there, they were both signed up to play for Bangor City Girls Club which is making its mark in the Northern Division and won the FAW Women's Challenge Cup this year.

Kelly Davies, a strong midfielder, lives in Towyn and started playing football with her elder brothers, David and Neil, when she was only six. After spending her early years at Towyn Junior School, she progressed to Emrys Ap Ioan School in Abergele.

"I'll miss home, the Bangor players and especially, going to watch Liverpool play at home, " said the talented youngster, who recently gained her first Welsh senior cap.

"I was delighted when I heard the news that I was accepted. My aim now is to trial for the Arsenal reserve team."

Her father, Colin Davies, has dedicated many an hour at Bangor City coaching and developing the goalkeepers.

"When we went with Kelly to the trials, I was so amazed at the level of play and the breadth of talent, " said her father. "I'm very happy for her as it's a golden opportunity."

Striker Milly Durrant lives in Aberystwyth and started playing football when she was five with her father, Andy, who played football for England under-18s, and elder brother, Robin "We used to live in Tregaron and Milly attended Pen-Uwch primary school. The school didn't have enough boys to make a football team so we fought to get her to play in the team.

Eventually, she got to play when she was nine, and she even became team captain when she was 11, " he says.

The major turn-around, however, came when her talent was spotted by Matthew Bishop, a Football Association of Wales development officer, in Aberystwyth & District junior league. Bishop instantly saw the potential in this young forward, who in turn introduced Durrant to Meirion Appleton, the manager of the Centre of Excellence in Aberystwyth for boys aged between 11-15.

Although the swift striker was also playing for Tregaron Ladies, Durrant and her father were very keen to pursue this avenue to take her skill, stamina and fitness level up another gear. The Ysgol Penglais pupil obviously had a remarkable talent and wanted to train at a higher level and on a more regular basis.

Appleton and Bishop were the driving force behind the final decision and, after much determination and dedication, managed to change the boys-only system and welcomed Durrant to the centre.

As a result, she has played for Wales at under-14 level and recently played for Wales in the Dana Cup in Denmark, for the under-15 team.

"When I went for the Arsenal trials I remember being concerned because I had groin injury and took some painkillers before each trial. I thought it might spoil my chances of going through, but luckily for me I played well, " said the 16-year-old.

Jo Price, a goalkeeper, lives in St.

David's and started playing football when she was six with her elder brothers Like most big brothers, they made their little sister play in goal which, looking back, was a blessing in disguise.

Although the only girl in the team, at the age of nine Jo started playing in defence for the local boys' team Solva.

The turn around came however when the Ysgol Dewi Sant pupil decided to sign up with Goodwick Ladies when she was 13.

The gifted goalie hasn't looked back and has played for Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire County and Wales on numerous occasions.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 6, 2001
Words:846
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