The sporting greats are inspired by dreams but they endure because of a mental strength. It is understandable if a seven-year-old in Ayrshire has an ambition to be a footballer. But it takes more than talent for that precocious talent to embark on a journey that ends with the lifting of the World Cup.

Rose Reilly, who entered Scottish football's Hall of Fame last night at a ceremony in a Glasgow hotel, is the most successful footballing Scot.

Those who whisper with a mean-spirited chauvinism that Ms Reilly should be in the Kitchen of Fame ignore a record that includes eight Serie A titles, a French title, four Italian Cups, two Golden Boots, and the World Cup won with the Italian team in 1983.

Behind these baubles lies a character of true mettle. Reilly is a true Scottish champion. She eschewed a burgeoning career in athletics to head abroad to play professional.

She was a working-class girl. She was playing for AC Milan. She was 17 and there was loneliness. "I was staying in a hotel and none of the other players spoke English.

I would speak to myself in the mirror, knowing that I could see somebody speaking back to me, even if it was only myself. I just encouraged myself. I said this is a great opportunity, this is a great life, let's enjoy it'. It was just like talking to a friend."

She learned the language with the same determination she applied to her football.

"I got the Gazzetta dello Sport every day and I bought a dictionary. I learned a word every day. I was reading something I was interested in and that's how I learned."

She honed her impressive fitness by training in the midday sun while her team-mates rested in preparation for sessions in the cool of dusk. Successful spells followed at Catania, Lecce, Napoli, Fiorentina and Trani.

She once won titles in two different countries in the same season. "I would play with Lecce on a Saturday afternoon and then fly to Paris to play on Sunday with Rheims. We won both championships. I was always myself, with my bag over my shoulder. Just me and the game."

Pressed on how hard she had to work, she brushes it off. "It was a good life. It wasn't as if I was down the pits," she says.

She played until she was 40 and then stayed on in Italy with her husband, Norberto. She came back to Stewarton seven years ago, at the age of 45, to care for her sick mother. Rose has dedicated herself to caring for her mother and bringing up seven-year-old daughter, Meghan, who is besotted by ballet, not football. "Life is all about family," she says.

Reilly still watches football, particularly Serie A as she has a link to an Italian satellite station. She played at AC Milan at the same time as greats such as Gianni Rivera. She learned about the intricacies of the Italian mentality and is fascinating on the clash between Scotland and Italy on Saturday that will decide who progresses to the finals of Euro 2008.

"When it is not a big occasion, they just go through the motions," says Reilly of Italian footballers. "They are too vain for the small stuff." However, she adds: "But when it comes to crunch they are nearly unbeatable. Not because they are better players, it's the mentality. They are very strong in that department.

"Italians wait to go in for the kill, they are more rational in big games. Scots have a fire in their bellies but we can get carried away. We tend to go mental, lose the place."

She offers a ray of hope, though. "It's a difficult one to predict, but Scotland could do it. I rate Alex McLeish as a manager and I don't rate Roberto Donadoni."

She rates the induction to the Hall of Fame as her greatest honour.

"As a wee girl I wanted to be the best in the world. It was my burning desire, my wee secret. To win the World Cup with Italy and to be nominated the best female player in the world was . . . wow."

She may have been lost for words when recalling that 3-1 victory over China in Beijing in 1983. She is quietly articulate on what it means to join those such as Kenny Dalglish, Dave Mackay and Denis Law in the highest echelon of Scotland's national game.

Reilly expresses amazement at being accorded the honour, before adding: "I'm trampling on virgin ground as I am the first woman to be inducted.

I am really proud on behalf of Scottish women because it is a man's world."

The Hampden Hall of Fame may be a long way from Stewarton boys' club football. Reilly was once approached as a seven-year-old with a short back and sides and asked if she would like to visit Celtic for a trial. Her sex meant she had to take a more tortuous route to sporting greatness. En route, she learned more than just how to play a game.

It has been a magnificent journey with a glorious destination. The wee lassie from Stewarton has finally joined the big boys of the Scottish game.

For the record

NAME Rose Reilly.

BORN January 2, 1955, Kilmarnock.

EARLY CAREER Played for Stewarton United Boys' Club. Picked in Scotland's Commonwealth Games training squad as a 16-year-old in the pentathlon. Chosen for Scotland women's team as teenager.

CLUB CAREER Played in France for Rheims and won one French title; in Italy for AC Milan, Catania, Lecce, Trani, Napoli, Fiorentina. Won eight Serie A titles and four Italian Cups. Twice won Serie A Golden Boot, scoring 43 and then 45 goals.

INTERNATIONAL CAREER Ten caps for Scotland; 13 caps for Italy. Won World Cup in China 1983 in front of 90,000 fans. Voted world's best female player 1983. OTHER INDUCTEES Walter Smith (1948-) Rangers manager; Gordon Strachan (1957-) Celtic manager; Alan Hansen (1955-) former Liverpool player, now television pundit; Ally McCoist (1962-) Rangers assistant manager; Eddie Turnbull (1923-) former Famous Five player at Hibs and manager at Easter Road and at Aberdeen; Willie Bauld (1928-77) Hearts legend; Eric Caldow (1934) former Rangers and Scotland captain; Jimmy Cowan (1926-68) Scotland goalkeeper who played so well against England in 1949 the match is remembered as Cowan's Wembley.