Semi-final meeting with Celtic highlights 'phenomenal' growth of Hearts Women

It’s been a rollercoaster four years for Mariel Kaney as a Hearts player. Progress isn’t always linear and there have been a few setbacks along the way, but there is no doubting the incredible transformation the club have experienced during the captain’s time in maroon.

After joining in April 2018 following spells with Hibs and Spartans, Kaney was part of the side which finished third in the SWPL 2, missing out on promotion to the top flight.

In December of that year, ex-Hearts owner Ann Budge announced a yearly six-figure sum would be spent as the board sought to bring the women’s team more in-house. The investment paid off with Kevin Murphy arriving as manager to lead the charge to the second-tier title and promotion to the top-flight.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Then Covid-19 and the global pandemic struck. Resources were cut severely overnight as the stewards look to safeguard the future of both the men’s and women’s teams with no supporters allowed into stadiums. Murphy left for Rangers, being replaced by ex-Hearts forward Andy Kirk, and the age of the first-team came down dramatically.

Hearts captain Mariel Kaney poses with the SWF Women's Cup ahead of Sunday's semi-final clash with Celtic at the Falkirk Stadium. Picture: SNS

Expansion of the top flight from eight to ten teams was the only thing that saved Hearts last term as they finished rock bottom of the table with two wins from 21 matches. Since then, however, things have taken a significant turn for the better. Though they’re a position worse off this campaign, currently sitting in ninth with three games remaining, they’ve more than doubled their points-per-game tally under Eva Olid, who arrived in the summer to replace Kirk, and will square off against Celtic tomorrow for a place in the Scottish Cup final.

Furthermore, Hearts announced further investment earlier this season with the majority of players on a full-time training schedule and a move into semi-professional status. The team is still very young, with the majority of the squad still in their teens, but six players were called up to the most recent Scotland under-19s squad and the hope is that the club can move to the next level with the arrival of some experienced players this summer to compliment the young core.

“I've been on quite a journey. Across my four years I've had four managers,” reflected Kaney as she spoke to the Evening News. “We've gone from being not really associated with the club to being completely in-house and now we're aligned with the men's team. We've seen so much transition in terms of players, managers, coaches and there's only been a handful of us who've been there the whole time.

“It's really nice to see where we've come from to where we are now. From those pitches at Dalkeith to games like this one coming up: a Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic. That in itself is a huge achievement.

Mariel Kaney in action against Rachael Boyle during the defeat to Hibs at Easter Road earlier this season. Picture: SNS

“In the league we're sitting on 17 points. If we can get to 20 points then that's a great achievement from where we were. It's phenomenal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“So much hard work has gone into that. So much blood, sweat and tears – and I mean blood, sweat and tears – has gone into it. I feel quite proud about what we've achieved already.

“Anything we can happen in the semi. Everything is to play for now. We've rejuvenated the club. Fingers crossed we can do it... can you imagine?”

Indeed. Beating Celtic at the Falkirk Stadium would not only be the realisation of a lifelong dream for every player to feature in a major final, it could also represent a huge shot in the arm for the women’s side with the final scheduled to take place at Tynecastle Park on May 29.

Mariel Kaney in action for Hearts during a match at Hamilton Accies in 2019. Picture: SNS
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Further investment is already coming, especially with the club buoyed financially by the success of the men’s side this season in reaching third place and qualifying for an extended European campaign next term, but having the chance to play in front of several thousand supporters at the club’s home ground would accelerate interest further. Evidence of the growth is there already: more than 4,000 showed up to Tynecastle earlier this season to see a defeat to Hibs in the Edinburgh derby, which was four times the attendance of the 3-0 win over Partick Thistle in 2019 that clinched the second-tier crown. But a cup final in Gorgie would surely see the biggest crowd to date.

“The Scottish Cup is special in every walk of football, whether it's youth football, women's football, men's football, everybody dreams of winning the Scottish Cup,” said Kaney. “Everyone involved in football would love to watch Hearts involved in a Scottish Cup final if they have any affiliation to the club at all.

"Obviously this season we've had the youth side getting to the final, the men's team are in the final, so it would definitely catch the imagination of lots of people if we were to make it as well. It would make it a really special event.

“The semi-final at Falkirk is a massive event as well. Hopefully it'll be showcased well and it'll be a big family day. Having both games at the stadium on the same day is a big deal as well. Hopefully it can be one big celebration of football and a successful day for us.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It's definitely an exciting time to be a Hearts player. It couldn't be any more exciting. The club has been great with the women's set-up. There's been so much engagement and enthusiasm for the women's team. There's been so much investment in that sort of thing and support for the girls. I can't think of anything the club can do more to help us. It's amazing for the players.”

Message from the editor

Thank you for reading this article. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our sports coverage with a digital sports subscription.