Marissa Callaghan (c) AM Photography

INTERVIEW: CALLAGHAN WARNING FOR TITLE RIVALS

Cliftonville Ladies midfielder Marissa Callaghan has warned the contenders for this year’s Danske Bank Women's Premiership title not to write off the Reds.

Marty Douglas’s side are 10 points off leaders Linfield but have played a game less and still believe they can challenge the top three - including Sion Swifts and Glentoran - this campaign.

“Don’t write us off just yet,” insisted Callaghan.

“We have games coming up against Comber and Derry and if we can get six points from those then we are back in the mix, and we still have the Irish Cup and County Antrim Cup to look ahead to.

“Our results don’t reflect our performances - we are missing out on the small margins, missing big opportunities at key times.

“We have already beaten Linfield in the Cup this season but injuries have meant that team has not played against - injuries to Emma McMaster and Billie Simpson have been huge.

“When the club started, we used to get hammerings when we played Glentoran or the Strikers, we had to work our way up from the bottom of the pyramid but now we’ve been in the top league for six years and we are established at this level and regularly challenging for titles.

“Three seasons we won the Irish Cup and League Cup in the same season but then we lost a lot of experienced players so that prevented us from mounting a league challenge.

“Damian Copeland is a new strength and conditioning coach who has come into the club this season and that is really helping with our fitness and strength.”

Callaghan - who has five goals in six appearances in the league this campaign - is the only player to represent the Reds aged over 26.

“Our youngsters in the Under-19 league are thriving - they beat Glentoran and Linfield in the past few weeks and are really impressing,” added the 33-year-old, who joined the club when it was known as Newington Girls 20 years ago.

“They are all stars in their own age group and they will provide a really bright future for our club for sure, they need time to adapt.

“We have suffered with injuries this season and it’s hit us hard - we have a first-team squad of 14 or so but luck has really been against us.

“Players have had to be shifted around and it’s been tough on everyone, because this has been exposed when we are playing the biggest teams in the league.

“These things happen in football and you can’t do anything about it, and while our youngsters have done well you can see how they lack that bit of experience.”

Speaking in the midst of the Women’s World Cup, the Northern Ireland captain is confident her nation will some day be in the major international tournaments.

“The growth in the sport is incredible, it gives young girls the self-confidence and belief in themselves - that’s what happened to me and it’s what I look to instill when I’m coaching,” she continued.

“The football strategy that has been launched by the IFA is further proof that women’s football in Northern Ireland is really being backed and you can see the progress in recent times.

“Our profile is getting bigger ever all the time and this is a really good time to be involved in women’s football - Kenny Shiels managing the national team is a big boost too.

“The Women’s World Cup is much bigger than it ever has before and that will inspire so many young girls to get involved in the sport, and to dream of playing for their country one day.

“There’s no reason why Northern Ireland can’t be involved in future World Cups because we have so many talented youngsters coming through now.

“If this investment from the authorities and clubs continues at the rate it is now then there is a lot to be excited about.”

Tags:  Cliftonville Ladies