Hearts Women's Player of the Year Murron Cunningham on ambitious Eva Olid, Aaron Hughes influence and Scotland aim
The Hearts Women team sat in a circle on one of the pitches at the Oriam.
They had just been through an intense roller coaster. They were on the cusp of their third league win of the season thanks to a late penalty from Murron Cunningham only to concede an equaliser to city rivals Spartans.
Further disappointment followed as manager Andy Kirk delivered the news that he would be leaving the club, taking up the reins at Brechin City.
At what should have been an exciting moment, one of anticipation of what lay ahead after the team finished the season positively, there was shock.
Fast forward six weeks after a “short but sweet” break, the team is back in pre-season and there is plenty to look ahead to with enthusiasm.
A new manager has been appointed in Eva Olid who has a “great pedigree”, according to sporting director Joe Savage.
The Spaniard has already made a positive impression on the squad, who she met via Zoom.
"It came as quite a surprise,” defender Cunningham told the Evening News. "I wasn’t expecting something as ambitious as Eva.
"I definitely think she has a lot to offer the women’s game. She’s really, really ambitious, a brilliant character and I think she is going to bring a lot of energy in.
"Don’t get me wrong, it was really sad to see Kirky go. I feel like he could have really solidified something this season but she is a fresh face into the club and I think is really going to drive on what Hearts really need this season.”
Cunningham, who joined the club from Glasgow City in 2019, is well placed to offer an assessment of the team’s first season back in the SWPL top-flight.
The 22-year-old, an assured presence in the heart of defence, was a pivotal player throughout the campaign, enduring the lows, with the team on the receiving end of some heavy defeats, and helping achieve the highs, such as defeating Hibs.
Earlier this month she was confirmed as the Players’ Player of the year and Coaches Player of the Year.
Strength comes from within
“I suppose it is always nice to get a bit of self recognition but I think the majority of the credit goes to the coaching staff and my team-mates," she said. “Without them it wouldn’t have been possible.
“Personally [the season] was really good
"Mentally, it was really tough going due to getting defeated all the time and having to pick yourself back up. I think I performed as best I could and on reflection it’s been recognised after receiving the two awards.”
She added: “It was quite demoralising and hard hitting sometimes going out and getting defeated then having to pick yourself back up.
"The only way you can deal with it is going back out there. You can’t just give up because that’s a sign of weakness.
"The strength within yourself comes from turning up every Sunday again, showing improvement and that character and desire just to be better every week. That wasn’t just me individually, that was Hearts as a full team.
"We never once thought that giving up was an option. It was always our aim that we wanted to prove something that we’re just new to this league but we aren’t going to be a run over.
"Towards the end of the season we certainly grew into that.”
As well as the excitement of a new manager, there is also the excitement of a new look to the SWPL 1 this campaign with two teams added to create a ten-team league.
“For the team, it’s about the building blocks, taking from the latter stage of last season and building upon that," Cunningham said.
"That word consistency, I think that’s what we need to offer as a whole, and understanding the game a lot better and understanding how to manage a game because the competition is great and hard going.
"Adding two teams really makes it a lot more competitive and there is a lot more to fight for now with a relegation spot there as well.
“It adds a bit of ammunition to everyone in the club to prove what we can do but also to every other club in the league.”
Scotland and Aaron Hughes
On a personal level, Cunningham is focusing on providing “consistency” with a view to full Scotland honours having represented the country at youth level.
Her progress at the back, having previously played midfield, has been overseen by the ideal coach in Aaron Hughes and she credits Kirk with giving her more responsibility.
“I felt it was quite comfortable and allowed me to dictate a lot more of the play and manage my side of the game a lot better,” Cunningham said.
"That’s more suited to who I am as a player and what I can offer on the pitch.
“I don’t think you could ask for anyone better in the women’s game at this current moment than Hughesy for my position.
“We worked together quite often after training.
“My directional passing and learning when it’s the right time to play a percentage ball into an area up top. I think that’s an area of my game that really came on from the start of the season and started to come together with my confidence and being able to have the ability on the ball to offer composure.
"With Hearts being under pressure a lot, it was more reading the game and understanding when to drop and when to push.”
She added: “It would be an honour to represent my country but it’s something that doesn’t come easy. I know that.
"It’s definitely on my horizon but it only comes from hard work because the competition is immense at that level, you’ve got girls playing all around the world.
"For me to be able to reach that level then I really need to focus and continue doing what I’m doing.”