Willie Kirk believes Elise Hughes has “a big future ahead” after the Everton striker was named women’s young player of the year at the 2019 Football Association of Wales Awards.
The lifelong Evertonian, from Hawarden, has made rapid progress despite not turning 18 until next month.
Hughes was handed her Wales debut in March 2018 in the Cyprus Cup against Switzerland and, having been given a first Everton start by Kirk in December’s Merseyside derby against Liverpool, the teenager netted her maiden Blues goal in the 2-1 success at Prenton Park.
Becoming a starter in Kirk’s ever-improving team before suffering a minor knee injury, Hughes, who graduated through the Club’s Regional Talent Centre, has now been tipped to build on her breakthrough campaign.
“The award is great news and thoroughly deserved,” Kirk told evertonfc.com. “Elise is not only a leading star for Wales but a leading star for Everton. To be 17 and awarded that in front of other excellent young talent in the Wales squad is excellent for her and for the Club.
“She’s done so well with Wales when she’s been given the opportunity and I’m sure that will continue. At her age, she could go on to become Wales’ most capped player. She’s got a big future ahead.
“We gave Elise her first start in the derby match just before the Christmas break and she scored on her full debut. For a lifelong Evertonian and someone who came through the youth academy it was a dream come true. She took so much confidence from that.”
Kirk added: “Elise should take confidence from what she’s already achieved at a young age but she’s humble and intelligent enough to know she has a lot to work on. She works very hard every day and she has to be a regular starter for Wales and try to pick up as many minutes as possible in the Everton team.
“Next year is going to be big for her. Our squad will be stronger again so for her to get minutes will take a lot of hard work but I’m sure she will put that in.”
Kirk returns to former club Bristol City on Sunday (3pm kick-off) as Everton resume their WSL campaign, looking to build on the 1-0 success at West Ham earlier this month courtesy of Hannah Cain’s late winner.
“I’m looking forward to it,” added Kirk. “It will be good to go back to my old home and see some familiar faces. It will be a tough game. Bristol have done exceptionally well this season but I think we can go there and win the game because I believe we can beat anybody.
“We’ll be looking to continue the form from the West Ham game and the performance from the Man City game before that.
“The West Ham win meant a lot. The players are buzzing from that and the next game can’t come quick enough.”