Crusaders Strikers have been the surprise package of the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership this season and star player Amy McGivern believes their good form can continue.
The North Belfast side have won each of their last two outings, including a notable 2-1 home win over Sion Swifts.
Having finished last season in fifth place, there are now plenty of signs that the Strikers are going in the right direction to rejoin the league’s leading pack.
“The game against Sion was a big statement and showed the mindset had changed a bit,” McGivern explained.
“In previous years we were big underdogs going into games against the league’s best sides and would have been looking to get draws in a lot of them.
“But we took the lead early here and managed to hold on for the rest of the encounter, it was a great performance.
“It was important to bounce back after we lost to Linfield, but every side had lost after three games and with the league being so short, we have a good chance of taking people by surprise.”
McGivern has established herself as one of the star players for the Crues since returning last year following a four-year scholarship in the United States, and explains every player is under pressure to retain their place in the team.
“There is competition for places throughout the squad,” she added.
“We have had a lot of young players coming through - there were a number of young girls who made their debuts this year and are now regulars in the XI.
“That raises the standards because it makes training a lot more competitive and anyone knows that if you are not performing then you won’t be in the time.
“We have a great blend of the older players who have more experience then younger girls breaking into the setup.
“I’m a young player but I’m one of the more experienced players in the squad now.
“I had always naturally been a defender but in recent seasons I was moved up into more of a midfield position and I had never been used to scoring goals, but they’ve been coming since I rejoined the club!”
There were 12 Danske Bank Women’s Premiership stars in the Northern Ireland side to face Faroe Islands this month, and McGivern is hopeful of joining the ranks of Kenny Shiels’s squad soon.
The 23-year-old previously won four caps for her nation after captaining the side at Under-19 level and is now proving herself to be one of the in-form players at local level.
“I’d love to break back into the setup and you can see now how many local-based players are in the squad,” McGivern explained.
“I had won a few caps before moving out to the US but that is when the management team of the international setup changed.
“Now I’ve got to work harder now to reestablish myself and show that’s the level I can be at.”
Having started her footballing career at a very young age, McGivern initially played in boys teams at Linfield before switching to Crusaders, where she established herself as a teen star before moving out to the States - where she spent four years.
“The difference in standard he in the four years I was away is huge,” McGivern explained.
“The level of coaching is now so much further ahead, Spike Hill is at the Crues and he has three or four new coaches coming in to take sessions.
“You get more aspects of training to improve your individual performances and as a team.
“The league is a lot more competitive and to a much better standard than it had been before - you just need to look at the number of girls going across the water now compared to before.”
Alongside being a standout player in Association Football, McGivern’s busy schedule is added to by a packed Gaelic schedule - she represents Down at county level alongside her club team.
“Normally it’s ok to balance the two because of the timing of the seasons,” she said.
“But the way things are going this year it means it is a little more chaotic with both seasons clashing, so I have had to find a way to balance it.
“Every night of the week I have either a training session or a match for one team or I’m having to double up.
“Of course this is a little bit difficult but I’m lucky to be able to fit it all in and can balance the teams.”
The Crues will be hoping to continue their run of victories as they travel to Glentoran Women on Wednesday evening.