Joelle Murray promises that Hibs Ladies won’t be overwhelmed in Champions League tie
The last time that Hibernian Ladies starred in a European night under the glare of the Easter Road floodlights, they were over-awed by the occasion and slumped to an emphatic 6-0 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich.
That was in 2016 and with experience comes wisdom. Back in the last 32 of the Champions League, having successfully negotiated the qualifying group, when they take to the pitch against Slavia Praha in Leith this evening, they say they will be more focused on the football.
“For me, the Bayern Munich game, it was a first, it was a big occasion,” explains captain Joelle Murray. “The scale of it, playing the game at the stadium, it was a new environment for us all and, on the night, I think we all probably got caught up in the whole occasion.
“It became about the event, not just the game but, certainly, I can now draw on those experiences, positive and negative and take them into this game. There are players within the squad for whom this will be the first time for them playing on a stage like Easter Road, in the Champions League, so they might get caught up in the moment but I would like to think that the players who have been there before, myself included, can guide them and help them through the game.
“If I’m honest, one of the last things I think about when I remember that game against Bayern Munich is probably the score, which talks to the fact I was more caught up in the event itself than trying to treat it just like any other game. It was incredible, as a massive Hibs fan, to walk out that tunnel, leading the girls onto the pitch for an evening game at Easter Road, in Europe, in front of friends and family.”
There were 2,551 in attendance, and while the current trend of rising crowds for international games, with more than 6,000 in Easter Road for Scotland’s Euro qualifier against Cyprus, suggests a bigger turnout tonight, back then it was a sizeable support.
“The crowd was also special. We weren’t sure what kind of crowd we would get that night and when we went back in after the warm up the crowd wasn’t that big so when we came out and turned around, I think we were in awe of the support that was there that night. It was a really proud moment for me.”
Looking back with fondness on an occasion which ended with such a lop-sided scoreline is unusual for a team more familiar with winning.
Triple double winners, when it comes to the domestic cups, that inflates the players’ belief in themselves and their team-mates as they get ready to tackle a higher level of knock-out football.
But there is also a healthy dose of nerves given the calibre of the opposition. The Czech side have been quarter-finalists in three of the past four seasons and go into the game as favourites but the Hibernian manager Grant Scott maintains it would be silly to write of a strong-willed and talented squad of youth and experience.
A home win would be the ideal, to set them up for the second leg in Prague on September 25. “But if we draw or if it is even a narrow defeat, it will still give us something to play for. We want to be travelling there knowing that the tie is still alive.”
A counter-attacking side, who, like Hibs have pace in attack and can quickly turn defence in its head, there is scope for an exciting end to end game. But Scott says they will have to show game intelligence beyond their limited European experience to resist the urge to be too gung-ho, particularly if the scoreline is close toward the end of the match. “We could have had a harder draw but we could have had an easier draw. Slavia Praha are a good team. If we had one of the really top teams then we would be thinking we have no chance but this is a wee bit different. We know we will have to work a helluva hard but we think there are things we can capitalise on if they aren’t at their best and we are tight and strong.
“We have players who are experienced but we also have young players who are not afraid to have a go and we believe there are ways we can hurt them.
“It will be a 50-50 message about how we play against them. I would love the players to get the rewards they deserve. We just have to be clever.”