Sion Swifts boss Tony McGinley believes the arrival of sister Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness have given the club “a huge lift” but any title push this season will be tough.
The Strabane-based club missed out on the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership title to Linfield on the final day last season, but their capture of the two stars from the Blues were the most notable transfers of the summer.
However, McGinley stresses that the club’s expectations have been downgraded due to losing 16 first-team squad players and members of the coaching staff.
“Kirsty and Caitlin have given everyone a big lift,” McGinley explained. “Those two bring a lot in terms of quality and the attitude they have.
“We are a young team and we started with four 17-year-olds against Derry last week - they’re in there for a reason and they have the quality, but they still have an awful lot to learn at this level.
“We are lacking a little bit of experience in certain areas and whilst every team has a big overturn of players, nobody has had the volume that we have.
“16 players moved on from last season and those 16 players would challenge for a league title in this country and on top of that, three senior members of the coaching staff have moved on.”
Sion have made headlines in recent seasons for the calibre of player they have been able to attract.
Last year, the club signed Jamaican international stars Nicole McClure and Dee-Kay Henry, while American colleges player Kristin Desmond and Haiti international Samantha Brand were also added.
All four have now departed, while a series of other regulars from last year have also left, following on from the exit of star Tyler Toland to Manchester City.
“The signings were not a shock for me at all,” added McGinley.
“Sion are a club who are an option for any top player in this country because of the setup we have and what we have been trying to create.
“Last season was fantastic with a series of players coming into the club from outside Northern Ireland and helping the girls here develop and push towards the closest ever title race in the division.
“Some of the girls, like Nicole and Dee-Kay, would have loved to stay on but for circumstances beyond our control that was not possible.”
In light of those exits, McGinley believes a sustained title push will be beyond the club this season and that the title is likely to stay in Belfast.
“It will be tough to sustain that with a new squad,” he continued.
“In my eyes, we are probably third or fourth in the pecking order at the moment and Glentoran are strong, strong favourites for the league as they have two very strong teams they can put out.
“Linfield will be challenging again but it will be tough for them to replace the quality they have lost and especially in the final third of the pitch.
“This is a very difficult league and anything we can take from this season will be a huge bonus.”
McGinley has been involved with Sion since their formation over a decade ago and has overseen their rise through the divisions.
Despite changes in the coaching setup this year he remains in charge of the team and oversaw the team’s six-goal win at Derry last week to start the campaign.
“It was great for everyone to get back on the pitch after so long away,” he said.
“Everyone had missed the matchday buzz and everything that goes into a game, so to have that, a win, six goals and a clean sheet was very pleasing.
“We know that going forward we will need to improve - there has been so much hard work that has been put into the club until now and we have to build on that.”
Sion travel to Crusaders on Wednesday evening in the second matchday of the campaign.