SION Swifts Ladies will write another chapter in their remarkable yet relatively brief history when they open their NIWFA Premier Leagiue campaign against Cliftonville at Solitude on Wednesday evening.
Swifts Ladies only entered the league in 2010 but five successive promotions has propelled them to the top table where the north Tyrone outfit will pit their wits against the likes of Linfield, Crusaders and last year’s champions Glentoran Belfast United.
Last season Tony McGinley’s side was promoted along with Newry City and with a new coaching and management team in place the Swifts boss is quietly confident his team can compete with the cream of the crop.
“Things are absolutely buzzing, we have the biggest squad ever of some 25 girls,” he said.
“Tommy Canning (former Tyrone Milk Cup boss) has come on board. I consider him one of the most experienced and professional coaches in the business. Gary McGuigan is also on board as is Aidan Gallagher, a goalkeeping coach from Raphoe direction who previously worked with Finn Harps.
“The committee, the players, the coaching staff, myself, we can’t wait to get going. Preparation has been first class, Tommy has brought a new level of professionalism that hadn’t been here before.
“The good thing is that the girls have really bought into it.”
While Swifts will enter previously uncharted waters when they take on the Reds on Wednesday evening, they have shown in cup competitions in the past that they can match the teams in the elite bracket.
Just last season Sion defeated Mid Ulster Ladies in the quarter-final of the Irish Cup and were just seconds away from taking the semi-final to penalties before being denied by a last-gasp winner.
The north Tyrone outfit is laced with genuine quality. They currently have three senior internationals, skipper Kendra McMullan, Alan McShane and Lauren Brennan as well as half a dozen underage Northern Ireland players.
McGinley has snapped up Republic of Ireland U17 international Zoe McGlynn and has been boosted by the inclusion of Lorraine Conwell who has left the Tyrone GAA ladies set-up to concentrate on her soccer career. McShane and Jess Moorehead are also expected to return from scholarship in the US in the coming weeks to join Zara O’Hagan, who has already returned.
The senior set-up has been backed up with Canning establishing a new youth academy which McGinley’s hopes will provide a production line of skilful young players.
After the Cliftonville game, Sion welcome title favourites Linfield to Melvin, before travelling to Crusaders. Champions Glentoran visit the Strabane venue on June 3.
FULL PREVIEW IN STRABANE CHRONICLE