YMCA Ladies face a baptism of fire when they make their long awaited return to the N.I.W.F.A.’s top flight next month as they travel to Belfast to take on Linfield Ladies in the opening game of the 2012 season.
The Derry girls make the trip to face the Belfast Blues - who finished third behind champions Glentoran and runners-up Crusaders last season - on Wednesday, April 18th.
Linfield defeated YM home and away two years ago when the clubs last met in the Premier League but prior to that the Drumahoe side boasted the better record, culminating in the Tesco Cup Final win in 2009 when YM won 2-1, with goals from Laura Nicholas and Claragh Connor.
YM’s first home match is pencilled in for May 2nd when they face Crusaders at the YMCA Grounds before travelling to Cookstown to play Mid-Ulster Ladies and then home to Fermanagh Mallards.
YM manager, Greg McKeever is looking forward to the upcoming season: “The whole club, players and coaches are really looking forward to the challenges of the Premier League this season,” he said.
“When we first got promotion to the Premier League in 2010 we were a very, very young side with an average age of only 16 and we unfortunately got relegated in a two leg promotion/relegation play-off against Loughgall.
“However, I really think the relegation to the Championship was a blessing in disguise because the team re-grouped, strengthened and won the Championship title at the first attempt and we now go into the coming season with a team two years older and stronger mentally and physically.”
The ambitious team boss has set his sights on a top four finish which would prove a remarkable achievement for the local side.
“I have set the girls a target of a top four finish,” said McKeever. “We have a very strong but young squad with an average of only 18 but many of our players have gained valuable international experience.
“Kendra McMullan, Laura Nicholas and Chloe Archibald have all played in European Championship Qualifiers for N. Ireland at U19 and Senior level. Aoife Curran, Zara O’Hagan and Rachael Kivlehan play for the N. Ireland U17s and Mairead McCann has been drafted in the N. Ireland Senior squad by boss, Alfie Wylie.
“Aine McKeever is currently plying her trade in the USA on a Soccer Scholarship and we have made a number of key signings this season with goalkeeper, Emma Glenn (Cappagh Spurs), midfielder Shona Kelly, and star striker Claragh Connor back in the fold.
“Add these players with the likes of Sarah Bergin, Avilla Bergin, Tasmin McCarter, Seanna Meehan and Hannah Kilgore and you can see we have a very capable unit,” he concluded.