Micky McAlonie eager to finally face Hearts at Easter Road as Hibs ace prepares for tough battle

Micky McAlonie is in the somewhat unique position of having faced Hearts at Tynecastle Park and scored against them at the Tony Macaroni Arena, but not at Easter Road.

The combative Hibs Women midfielder was injured last season and missed out on the chance to play in the record-breaking Edinburgh derby which ended in a victory for Dean Gibson’s side courtesy of goals from Alexa Coyle, Eilidh Adams, and Rachael Boyle in front of 5,512 fans so the chance to finally take on the club’s rivals in front of twice that number of supporters is one for which the 20-year-old can’t wait.

“I’ve never played in front of a crowd that big but I know from past experiences at Easter Road and Tynecastle it does change the atmosphere and gives you a buzz. Knowing that people are shouting your name and screaming behind you means it’s a completely different feeling. It’ll be great to have that,” she says, previewing the upcoming SWPL1 clash.

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“It’s a great opportunity for family and friends to come and watch and the club has been really good with handing out tickets to local schools so the kids from Leith can come and watch. It will be great to have a good crowd behind us. Derbies are a different feeling for me but I think most of the girls feel it too. We’re all buzzing, we’re all looking forward to it, and we can’t wait to get out there."

At the time of writing more than 11,000 tickets had been snapped up, with the team on track to set another attendance record and draw a crowd previously unheard of in the women’s game, barring international matches at Hampden. McAlonie expects the occasion to match the build-up.

“I think it will be emotional but we need to control it and take it to a level where we’re not getting too nervous but there are good nerves. It’s about controlling the mindset. My nerves build up until the first touch of the ball and disappear after that. I just can’t wait to play at Easter Road in front of all the fans and I know Hearts are bringing a decent crowd too,” she adds.

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A quick glance at the SWPL1 table may require a second look for Hearts, who were comprehensively beaten in all three league derbies last season, currently sit above Hibs. But Eva Olid has put together a strong team in maroon and so Sunday’s meeting may just be that bit closer than last year’s encounters – something McAlonie is relishing.

“Hearts have done well so far this season; I think this is probably the strongest they’ve ever been. Sunday’s game will be tough, it will be challenging, but we’re confident and we believe in ourselves. We just need to go out and show that,” she explains.

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Micky McAlonie can't wait for the chance to take on Hearts in front of a record-breaking crowd at Easter Road. Picture: Hibernian FC

“It was hard for us at the start of the season; we had a new group of girls and hadn’t really had time to gel by the time the first game came around. But I feel like now we know our strengths and weaknesses and we’ve gelled as a team and it’s showing on and off the pitch. We’re at that stage where we’re settled and we’re looking to continue the form we’ve been in."

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McAlonie played in the Sky Sports Cup victory over Hibs’ long-time foes Glasgow City, setting up a final against Rangers next month, and the former Spartans ace – who also spent time with Hearts as a youth – insists the team’s success at the other end of the M8 was the ideal tonic for a Hibs side that has been, perhaps unsurprisingly given the player turnover, a bit up and down in terms of results this year.

“The semi-final win against Glasgow City lifted us so much; I think it’s exactly what we needed and I think we deserved it too. The effort the girls put into that game was night and day and now we’ve set a standard that we need to take into every game,” McAlonie states.

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There are a lot of new faces wearing green and white this season and several of the team could be making their debut not only against Hearts, but also at Easter Road. With goalkeepers Benedicte Håland and Dani Kosińska, defenders Liana Hinds, Poppy Lawson, and Lucy Parry, midfielders Eleni Giannou and Ava Kuyken, and attacking trio Krystyna Freda, Nor Mustafa, and Crystal Thomas all new to Scottish football, there could be several ‘firsts’ come the weekend. McAlonie, who despite her young age is practically a veteran by comparison, has plenty of advice for her team-mates.

“I think the new girls just need to go and enjoy it. Games like this don’t come around too often but it’s a big occasion and you treat it with respect, you respect your opponents, but as soon as you step onto the pitch, nothing matters – you just need to go and have fun, play your football, and hopefully get the win."

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But while much of the attention around Sunday’s clash naturally centres around the meeting of two rivals, a record-breaking crowd, and the chance for bragging rights it is also another step forward for the women’s game. There is a very real possibility that Sunday’s attendance could beat the crowd at the previous day’s friendly between the Hibs senior men’s team and Middlesbrough, and McAlonie yearns for the women’s derby to match the men’s event.

“The women’s game is only getting bigger and better so it’s definitely given us a ‘fire-in-the-belly’ feeling,” she admits. “We’re all looking forward to it and we’re really excited. It’s important to keep boosting the derby – the women’s game is growing, but it shouldn’t be that the men’s games are any different from ours. I think that’s gradually getting better. I think we need to keep doing everything possible to make it the best we can.”