Glentoran Women lead the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership with just three rounds of matches remaining as they close-in on their second successive title.
There has been an influx of new arrivals at the East Belfast club in the past two years but arguably their most important player has been a teenage striker developed by their youth system.
Kerry Beattie has bagged 18 goals for the Glens this campaign and has spearheaded their title charge ahead of celebrating her 19th birthday later this month.
The goal-hungry striker joined the Glens from Lisburn Ladies and has established herself as one of the star players in the top-flight.
“When we signed Lauren Wade, that is an international player who can easily play as a striker in my position so that was a huge challenge to myself,” explained Beattie.
“Our front six are all international players and it is hugely competitive, with our substitutes bench just as strong as our starting team.
“There is always someone who is chasing my jersey so I know I always have to do my job really well - but training with those players every week pushes me on as a player.
“That also makes it easier at international level because we are already familiar with each other from club training and matches.”
Unsurprisingly, Beattie’s form has been recognised at international level and she now has her eyes on next summer’s European Championships and being a key member of Kenny Shiels’s side.
“A few years ago there was an established starting team for Northern Ireland but now there is competition for places throughout the squad,” the striker added.
“If you had of told me a year ago that I would be part of a history making squad at international level, I would have laughed in your face - it would have been unbelievable.
“But now I am a completely different player and feel that I have really stepped up my game - the opportunity to train at international level has really pushed me on.
“Last season I scored five goals in 10 games but this season has been a big improvement on that front, alongside my overall game.
“Being competitive pushes the team on overall - I am competing for a starting spot with the likes of Emily Wilson (Crusaders) and Caitlin McGuinness (Cliftonville), with Simone Magill (Everton) already there.
“That is the level of competition you face and it makes it even sweeter when you get picked.”
With just three rounds of matches remaining, the Glens lead the way at the top of the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership but are ahead of Cliftonville not on points but courtesy of their superior head-to-head record.
There is little room for error for either side going into the closing weeks of the campaign, with Glentoran facing a trip to Linfield - who held the Reds to a scoreless draw recently - in a crunch clash on Friday.
Beattie continued: “We drew our first game against them this season and we know how tough a team they can be.
“They are starting to gel as a team and have lots of really talented young players, with lots of pressure on us to win the game - so we need to step up to that.
“But we are in a great run of form ourselves with our winning streak and our showings in Europe, so we go into this full of confidence and belief in what we can do.
“Everyone is really positive at the moment, and we have really come together as a team, it took the new signings a little while to find our feet and reach our full potential.
“We lost earlier in the season against Sion and Cliftonville but two hiccups in a very long season is not bad at all.
“We had a lot to prove this year as last season’s title was in a shortened campaign, so this year was tougher to prove what we are all about.
“Those games in Europe were extremely helpful for us to bond and really come together even more.”
The Glens have been out at the top of the standings for virtually the entire campaign alongside Cliftonville, with a fierce but healthy rivalry between the two sets of players.
“The two teams are so familiar with each other because of how much training we have done together,” said Beattie.
“When I am being marked by (Reds defender) Kelsie Burrows, she knows my game inside out but I also know what she is going to do and how she is going to play.
“There are really close bonds between the players but all that is put aside when you are lining up against each other and you are representing your club.
“You always play to win and after the game there are no hard feelings, but during the matches the rivalry is intense and all that is put aside.”
Linfield take on Glentoran at New Midgely Park on Friday, with a 7.45pm kick-off.