Women’s football: Hibs up for challenge after English clubs raid their squad

The new Scottish Women's Premier League season kicks off this weekend
The new Scottish Women's Premier League season kicks off this weekend
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Hibs Ladies boss Grant Scott insists it’s very much business as usual as the new Scottish Building Society SWPL 1 season gets underway this weekend.

The current SWPL Cup and SSE Scottish Cup holders face city and groundsharing rivals Spartans at Ainslie Park tomorrow, hoping to be in the hunt for league and cup honours again.

However, despite a strong recruitment process undertaken over the winter, Scott has has also had to contend with some high-profile departures over the winter.

Last season’s top goalscorer Abi Harrison, and defender Emma Brownlie signed professional contracts with English Super League sides Bristol City and Everton respectively last month, while winger Rachel McLauchlan also made the switch south to Championship club Yeovil Town.

However, Grant believes his squad, who have spent the past week in a training camp just outside Valencia on the Costa Blanca, has retained its quality.

“A lot of teams have improved for the new season but we’re happy enough with what we’ve got,” he told the Evening News.

“I wasn’t certain the girls were all going to go last month but I had a great relationship with them and they were up front right away. It’s disappointing to lose such quality but I think we’ve recruited well. I believe we have enough to challenge again this year. Can we repeat previous successes? I wouldn’t be so bold as to say 100 per cent definitely we can. It’s nice to win trophies and we’ll do our absolute best to try and do so again.

“We do sell the club as a good place to learn. We’ve still got a lot of experience and we are proud of what we’ve achieved. But when these players are given the opportunity of a professional contract then it’s something they have to take. There’s a few in the current group that, having worked with them the past year, I believe will also go on to bigger and better things.

“I don’t think it’s a fluke. We’ve got a good academy and when they get to the first team, guys like Willie (Kirk), Chris (Roberts) and myself aren’t frightened to play them, no matter their age.”

Grant hopes a good week of team bonding in the sun can help them get off on the right track tomorrow.

“It was first class out in Spain and a great facility,” he said. “Everyone’s had a great time, although it’s been hard work.

“It’s been great to see the new players gel and I think we’ve become a lot closer as a group.

“The commitment from Rachael Small, for example, has been unbelievable. The fact that she was out in Spain with us on camp having left her young family behind is incredible. She’s not quite back to where she was before being pregnant but she’s getting there. When you’ve got someone of her quality coming back after a full season away it’s almost like a brand new player.

“Tomorrow will be tough. Spartans are always a hard unit to break down. We’ve worked hard over in Spain and had a match against a Second Division team who were quite good and pressed us hard. Playing in the heat also took it out of the players so it’s set us up really well.”

Spartans goalkeeper Rachel Harrison believes Hibs will still pose a significant threat despite the loss of some key personnel.

“We’ve had a really good pre-season and had a couple of friendlies so we’re just buzzing to get going,” the Scotland internationalist said. “I think it’s going to be a really competitive league this season. Our goal is to finish as high up the table as possible and challenge in the cups.

“It’s always good to have an Edinburgh derby for the first game of the season. They’ve lost some players but they still have a lot of quality in the team.”

In SWPL 2, Hearts begin their league campaign with an away trip to the Hope CBD Stadium to play hosts Hamilton Accies while Hutchison Vale welcome Kilmarnock to Saughton Enclosure in Edinburgh.

Hibs have lost seven players to England’s Women’s Super League and Championship since last July

July 2018: Kirsty Smith and Lizzie Arnot (Manchester United Women)

August 2018: Hannah Reid (Durham Women)

November 2018: Lisa Robertson (Durham Women)

January 2019: Abi Harrison (Bristol City Ladies); Rachel McLauchlan (Yeovil Town Ladies); Emma Brownlie (Everton Ladies)