Exclusive: Hearts ace Addie Handley reveals her desperation to beat Hibs, benefits of 'professional' training and Eva Olid's influence

While it's imperative Hearts and Hibs put in a performance on Wednesday night at Tynecastle to pique the interest of first-time supporters and convince them to become emotionally invested in the women’s game going forward, these are still highly competitive athletes and three points, especially with a bumper crowd expected, will remain the driving motivation in the mind of the players.

By Craig Fowler
Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 8:00 am
Addie Handley joined Hearts from Hibs earlier this year. Picture: David Mollison
Addie Handley joined Hearts from Hibs earlier this year. Picture: David Mollison

“Oh my god, I hate losing! There's nothing worse,” exclaimed Scotland under-17 international and Hearts star Addie Handley.

“I'm very pleased with our recent form. I do like winning. I'm very competitive. Honestly, it's the highlight of my week when we win. It's been really positive recently and when you get into a streak it carries on and hopefully we can take that into the Hibs game.

"Absolutely I'm confident we can win. It's a derby. You can feel everyone is excited, everyone is right up for it. Whether that translates to victory or not, it'll be a great experience for everybody.

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Addie Handley during the 3-0 defeat to Hibs at Easter Road earlier in the season. Picture: David Mollison

"There's possibly a bit of extra pressure because it's Hibs at Tynecastle, but it's a game of football at the end of the day. It's a big occasion so if that puts pressure on some players… maybe, but I'm just motivated.”

Hearts have won consecutive games on their travels, beating Partick Thistle in a 3-2 thriller and then Hamilton Accies 1-0, to move into seventh place in the SWPL 1, four points from the relegation zone.

Manager Eva Olid has credited the recent uptake with her players reaping the benefits of a new training system implemented at the Oriam. Despite not being professionals yet themselves, the majority of the Hearts Women side train like they are. They’re in five days a week, instead of the standard three, and more is coming in January.

"Now we are doing some positional and individual work, like the lines in defence and attack, but in January we will do a specific individual programme with every individual player,” revealed the Spanish head coach when she spoke to the Evening News. “It will have monthly contents for what they have to work on every week. They can check the plan every week on what they have to do and what they need to improve on. We are trying to do this at the moment but it is more general.”

(Right to left) Lia Tweedie, Aimee Anderson, Eilidh Begg and Addie Handley celebrate Begg’s goal at Partick Thistle in a 3-2 win for Hearts. Picture: David Mollison

It’s certainly a big commitment for the players and not all of whom are able to attend five days a week, but Olid stated her delight that every member of her squad who is free to attend the extra sessions has volunteered to do so.

The driving motivation is simple: get better. Professionalism for women footballers in Scotland isn’t the pipe dream it once was. In the national team there are full-time pros in England, Italy and the United States, while in the SWPL 1 Celtic and Rangers have started spending relatively big wages for the level as they look to end Glasgow City’s dominance.

Hearts have a way to go until they’re challenging at the right end of the table. But they are beginning to beat the teams around them in the relegation scrap and the next step is to get good enough to routinely give the big hitters a bloody nose.

"We're playing a new style of football, certainly something I haven't played before, with a focus on possession and the sessions are ideal for trying to work on the small, intricate passes that will improve our play and allow us to get forward,” said Handley.

Eva Olid helped her side pick up their third victory of the campaign. Picture: SNS

"I'm really enjoying it. I want to be playing as much as I can and training as much as I can and I think Hearts are giving me the perfect opportunity to do that. I'm really enjoying the extra sessions. They're ideal for what we want to achieve this season.

"Luckily I'm in a position where I'm still at school, still living at home with my parents, so it's just a case of them having to drive me everywhere. Though not everybody in the squad has that. It shows the passion of the players we have. We really want to improve and be the best team we can be. If that means training as much as a professional team then that's what we’re doing.”

It isn’t just extra hours out on the training pitch either. Hearts have also made strides to professionalise behind the scenes with video analysis, a nutritional specialist and sports scientist.

"It's so beneficial. You don't realise the small margins and how much they really benefit you as a player,” said Handley, who left Hibs to join Hearts in the summer.

"I haven't done this much gym training and I can really feel it and see it. I'm getting a better build and becoming a better athlete in general.

“I’ve never really done this much analysis before. Watching yourself back is possibly the most beneficial thing you can do. It's so important to look back and reflect before moving forward. These analysis sessions are really helpful for that.”

In Olid the squad have a tough taskmaster at the helm, one who is always demanding the players push themselves further and further in pursuit of individual and collective growth. But with a young and hungry unit – most of whom are still teenagers – there is a real enthusiasm about the direction the team is headed in.

"Yes she's certainly tough,” laughs Handley. “Her phrase is 'we work 200 hundred per cent'. It's never about your max, it's more than that. I like that attitude: you can always go further than you think you can. You need that little extra motivation and Eva is very good at motivating.

“It's the attitude we've created as a team and that comes from Eva. It's a trickle-down effect. You can see in her how emotional she gets, how passionate she is about the team. I think that really passes through us.”

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