Having enjoyed so much success on a domestic front in the past 14 months, Hibs Ladies captain Joelle Murray insists it is important the club now puts down a marker in Europe.
The Hibees are in Cluj, Romania to play three Champions League Group 2 qualifiers in just six days. First up for Chris Roberts’ side is Welsh champions Swansea City on Tuesday (kick-off 9am BST) before they meet Ukrainian outfit WFC Kharkiv on Friday. The Capital club then finish against hosts Olimpia Cluj next Monday with all three matches being played at the 30,000-seat Cluj Arena.
The ten group winners and the runners-up with the best record against the sides first and third in their section join the 21 teams already given byes into the Round of 32. Hibs’ rivals Glasgow City qualified automatically as current SWPL 1 champions.
And now Murray, who has captained Hibs to League Cup glory twice as well as a Scottish Cup win in little more than a year, believes now is the time to show they can mix it with Europe’s elite.
Hibs played in the Round of 32 last year before bowing out the competition to German giants Bayern Munich over two legs, losing 10-1 on aggregate.
“We want to be in the Champions League every season and last season has just whetted the appetite to go further,” Murray, 30, explained. “We had the Bayern game last year going in at the last 32 but playing in the stage before this year will be good for the girls and we want to be playing at this level year in, year out.
“We have seen Glasgow City dominate and be there and be that club representing Scotland and that is now what we want. Playing Champions League football is different from playing domestically. Domestically, we play the same teams two or three times a season, maybe even more, so you do get accustomed to how they play but it is a completely different challenge to go away in the Champions League and face teams you have never played before. That is where the analysis and studying previous results, previous performances comes into it.”
As a self-confessed Hibs fan, the opportunity to lead her side out at Easter Road under the floodlights last October is a memory Murray still looks back on with great fondness.
“That was probably up there, if not the pinnacle of my career walking out in front of about 3000 fans at Easter Road.” she said. “Playing under the lights, against a top, top club like Bayern Munich was amazing and definitely spurs us on to get through this group and bring a team like that back to Easter Road again. Hopefully, we can get the same kind of support, if not even more.”
Hibs boss Chris Roberts, meanwhile, admits he’s had a challenging summer break with several members of his squad – Murray included – away on Scotland duty at the European Championships in the Netherlands.
“We have not actually been together as a squad since June so it was for good reasons but it is tough for the club,” Roberts explained. “Players like Joelle were away with Scotland at the Euros and about two days after they got home, our 19s went away to their Euros with Scotland.
“Aside from us going two months without a game, we are in a group with three league champions, who, between them, have only lost only two games in the last season. Kharkiv were unbeaten, the Romanian team, Cluj, were unbeaten last season, and Swansea, who won the Welsh league, only lost two games on their way to the title. So, no pressure!
“On top of that, we will be playing in 30-odd degree heat so there are a lot of challenges but, I’m sure, when they look at our situation and see the number of games we have won – I think we’ve only lost one in the past six months – then hopefully they will be looking at us with the same concern.”