Womens Premiership


11 Nov 2020
There are few faces more familiar in the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership than Crusaders Strikers captain and Northern Ireland international Julie Nelson. 
The central defender won her first of seven league title with the club - then known as Newtownabbey Strikers - all the way back in 2002, and has enjoyed a glittering career since. 
Nelson played for Everton in the top division of English women's football and reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League with Glasgow City, for whom she won five major trophies, and also had a stint in Icelandic football with Úrvalsdeild. 
Now aged 35, she remains not only a star in Northern Irish football but for the international team for whom she has clocked up 109 caps and remains one of the first names on the teamsheet. 
Nelson has explained that it was the values of work ethic and motivation from her dad William - a former rugby player and coach - which inspired her trophy-laden career alongside that of her brother Andrew, a rugby player. 
She has now explained that she has no intentions of hanging up her boots anytime soon and is as determined as ever to succeed. 
“Throughout my career, I’ve hated missing training sessions and that is the same now as it was when I was 16,” Nelson, originally from Larne, explained. 
“That is all to do with the upbringing I had; my brother is a few years older than me but he has always been the same with rugby, and that came from our dad. 
“Those good habits from him were so important for the both of us and that has been reflected in our career - I’m still as enthusiastic now to play and to train as I ever have been. 
“My aim is to keep going for a good few years more too, as long as my legs hold out then I have no intention of ending my career just yet.” 
Whilst the Strikers have a core group of hugely experienced players - including Nelson, Danielle McDowell and Heather Mearns - there have been nine teenagers to be included in matchday squads this campaign. 
Such numbers show that the club’s academy - which is the biggest of all the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership clubs - is now really proving its worth. 
“There have been so many youngsters who have come through the system and are now first-team stars,” added Nelson. 
“Maddy Harvey-Clifford is now the established number one and then Beth Chalmers, Rachel McLaren, Jess Rea, Holly Otter and Faith Johnston who are leading a group of players who are now a big part of the squad. 
“They have all been products of the youth academy and that is exactly what the club are aiming to do - develop our own players and for them to form the spine of our team. 
“There is so much hard work in the background here with all the coaches in the academy, and there are more staff involved with our setup than any other club in the country in the women’s game. 
“It is not just good players who we are looking to develop but also good people - and that is definitely the case with us.” 
The Strikers are enjoying a fine campaign - last week’s draw at Sion Swifts lifted them, temporarily at least, into a top three position as they look set to build on last season’s disappointing fifth-placed finish. 
“We are really enjoying this season,” raved Nelson. 
“The last couple of seasons have not gone the way the we would have liked but we brought in a few players this season including Emily Wilson returning and she has made a big difference. 
“We have had 18 or more players in training for every session this campaign and there have been a few more coaches taking the sessions this year, which has been a big help as there are more voices and new ideas.” 
Last week’s draw at title-challenging Sion was the perfect indicator of the side’s growth this campaign as Emily Wilson’s late strike salvaged a point. 
“In previous seasons we would have lost that game, but we showed our mental strength to keep battling and win a point,” Nelson said. 
“That is a big difference from recent years, where we would have let our heads drop if we were behind in games and maybe were a bit short physically too, and that is no longer the case. 
“It was always a case of a lot of the players needing to believe in themselves more - especially the younger girls, who are now growing in experience and self-belief. 
“We are challenging strongly in every game we played - even the defeats against Glentoran and Linfield - and we know we can still influence where the title goes this season.” 
Next up for the Crues is a home game against Linfield Ladies on Sunday, with Spike Hill’s side hopeful of avenging their opening day 2-0 defeat.