The new women’s football season gets under way this weekend and, for the Capital’s clubs, the year ahead offers renewed optimism and, for some, a fresh start.
Hibernian Ladies were the surprise package for many last year after being written off at the start of the campaign following the loss of several key players.
But the Hibees put their faith in youth players and were rewarded with an excellent campaign that saw them finish second in the Premier League and runners-up in the Scottish Cup.
Manager Willie Kirk believes his players are capable of getting their hands on silverware this season but they will first have to overcome increased expectation.
He said: “Last year the pressure was off to an extent because no-one outside of the club expected us to do as well as we did. This year there will be external pressure and the players will have to be mentally strong enough to handle that.
“We’ve added [former Hibs player] Lisa Robertson from Glasgow City, Caroline Heron from Forfar Farmington and Elliss Jenkins from Spartans and they’ve all settled in really well.
“We want to kick-on and use last season as a stepping stone however we won’t be setting any targets other than to take it one game at a time and trying to win that.
“Of course, we would love to win some silverware and would be disappointed if we didn’t, but I do think the league will be more competitive this season. The acid test for us will come later in the season when we face Glasgow City.”
Elsewhere, Spartans raided Glasgow City for Danni Pagliarulo and Ciara Barnes and Hutchison Vale to bring Natasha McMahon and Tracey Donachie to Ainslie Park. Manager Debbi McCulloch believes all four will prove crucial signings in the year ahead and she wants to end the club’s trophy drought.
“They will give us different options than we had before and I’m delighted we were able to persuade them to come to Spartans,” she said.
“Everyone has returned from the close season in excellent condition and that’s a real bonus, because it means fitness won’t be an issue and it allows us to work on our organisation and getting our match sharpness back.
“Last year we finished fourth and that was disappointing. It shouldn’t be overlooked that if results had gone our way on the final day of the season we would’ve finished joint-second. We want to bring a trophy back to the academy this season and improve our league position, but at the moment we will simply target getting into the top six and then take it from there.”
Hutchison Vale start will start the campaign with a new manager, Andy Elwood, at the helm. Despite admitting he currently lacks any in-depth knowledge of the women’s game, Elwood is confident exciting times lie ahead for his side.
He said: “It’s been a few years since I was involved in women’s football at any level but it’s not every day you get the chance to manage in the women’s premier league, so it’s one I couldn’t turn down.
“The women’s game is on the rise and is getting more and more exposure so it’s an exciting time and a great opportunity to get involved.
“The girls have been very welcoming and they’re a cracking bunch; a real tight-knit group with great team spirit.”
Sunday, March 2: Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup first round: Rangers v Spartans (Petershill Park, noon); Hibernian v Hutchison Vale (Albyn Park, Broxburn, 2pm)