How Hibs Ladies plan to join Glasgow City, Rangers and Celtic at the top of SWPL
The Scottish Women’s Premier League campaign is just three days finished, but Hibs Ladies’ head coach Dean Gibson is already looking forward to next season with summer appraisals for his side.
They’re all positive meetings, poring over the goals set for last season and preparing to take on the new campaign with a renewed vigour from a late rally that lifted the team to fourth, ahead of neighbours Spartans, yet still behind the the west coast heavyweights of the women’s game.
Glasgow City claimed their 14th league crown in a row ahead of Celtic and third-placed Rangers. Both Old Firm clubs pushed investment towards their female football programmes and turned full-time for the latest campaign.
That created a notable split in the top flight between the full-time teams, part-time powerhouses Hibs and Spartans in mid-table, and then the 17-point gap to the remaining three clubs propped up by Hearts.
Join the party
Hibs’ aim – one Gibson believes can be achieved – is to join that top three group despite not sharing their full-time status.
“In the men’s game fourth gets European football and that's great, but in this league you don't get anything. For us it is definitely not a case of being ‘best of the rest’. We feel that with the players that we have and the club that we are, we should be in amongst it.”
To do that Hibs have to bridge a 19-point gap just to enter the podium places, with winners City a further eight points to the good.
“We had a lot of injuries this season often having 14 fit players, and the top three have almost run away with it, but next season we want to make it a top four in regards to a competitive team challenging at the top end. We finished fourth but 27 points off the top is not good enough.
“When we have played the top three they know they've been in a game and I think they to expect to have a top four next year and for us to fully join the party.
"We are not far away and if we get it right in pre-season then we will compete – we won't be there just to make up the numbers.”
Quality not quantity
The question is, how? With Rangers and Celtic investing, both in time and resources, they surged beyond Hibs and were City’s main challengers with full-time players able to apply longer hours to preparations.
Gibson believes the quality of training will be key in making up for the reduced quantity compared to the rivals above them.
"I do notice now with the other teams investing more that the league is more competitive. You can also put Spartans into the same category because they are competitive although not full-time either so it is a credit to the whole league really that it is being taken more seriously now.
"From a playing perspective we look just as fit as these teams and just as organised – that's a credit to the players because we are not doing as many training hours. What they are doing is they're taking the information we give them on board and are looking after themselves, which is important.
"You could do all the training session hours in the world but if you're not giving the right information it is pointless. We train three nights a week as a full team. If you can put the key information into the hours that you've got it is just as valuable as someone who has maybe 10 or 12 hours.
"We need to plan and prepare properly because we don't have the extra hours to say ‘we’ll do it tomorrow’ – we don't have that luxury or that attitude. Planning and preparation from our staff is probably more because we just don't have time and we need to make sure that we get everything right in the time that we do have and give the information properly.
"At the same time the players have to be receptive to that. When their hard work on top of the hard work of the staff can come together then I think you begin to get performances like we were getting towards the end of the season.”
Last season ended with a fourth-placed flourish after an awkward beginning, thanks to covid. Hibs ended the campaign with a 7-0 win over Forfar Farmington and a fairly formidable defensive record, holding eventual champions Glasgow City to a scoreless draw along the way. It is that which gives Gibson hope for next season too.
“We conceded one goal in the last five games, and five in the last seven. Out of those five three of them were from set-pieces so from open play we are a very, very hard team to break down now. Glasgow City, Celtic and Rangers have all found it very difficult to score goals from open play against us this season. That's a huge positive to take into next season, and to be honest this season ended at the wrong time for us.
"It is a starting point and something that we will look to maintain next season but we know we need to start scoring more goals. So from pre-season on we are just building from an attacking sense and trying to improve at the other end of the pitch.”
Until then the players have time off after a final analysis meeting with the coaching staff to see off the season and get ready for the next one.
"They’re all positive meetings,” Gibson added. “The good thing is for the first time at Hibs we have players under contract and no-one is going anywhere. It is building blocks for us.
"We are in a good place and looking forward to next season - everything is genuinely positive.”