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Womens Premiership

McGINLEY TAKES A STEP BACK AT SION

19 Apr 2021
football
© JPJ Photography Tony McGinley
Sion Swifts have built themselves from the ground up to being regular Danske Bank Women’s Premiership title challengers in recent seasons.
 
In 2019, the Strabane-based club missed out on the title to Linfield Ladies on goal difference on the final day and they recorded a top three finish last campaign.
 
Tony McGinley has been the man at the heart of that success, in charge of running the club and managing the first-team squad throughout these years.
 
However, he has now decided to take a step back in responsibilities with a new management team being instilled ahead of the new campaign.
 
Institute coach Paul McLaughlin is coming into the club as first-team coach with Tony Blake incoming as the goalkeeping coach with James Feehan - formerly coach of Newry’s Ladies side - also coming into the club.
 
McGinley - who intends to return to the club in the future - admitted it was a tough decision but he remains excited for the future.
 
“It was not an easy decision for me - it’s probably the first time I’ve put myself in front of Sion Swifts,” McGinley explained.
 
“We are the only standalone club in the women’s game at the top level - it has been a hell of a journey for us, to be the only club to go all the way up from the bottom tier to the top in that structure.
 
“We have put the club on the map and a lot of new clubs starting out are using us a role model - getting in touch with us to ask us how we managed to do it so they can take influence from.
 
“There’s a lot of work that has gone in over the past number of weeks to ensure the club are in the best position available to go into the new season and they are in safe pairs of hands.”
 
The club made headlines in 2019 with their signings of Jamaican international stars Nicole McClure (who featured at that year’s World Cup) and Dee-Kay Henry, while American colleges player Kristin Desmond and Haiti international Samantha Brand were also added.
 
However, all four moved on alongside Ireland international star Tyler Toland - who joined Manchester City - and the club needed to continue signing talent to stay among the leading sides in the division.
 
“To bring in players from abroad, World Cup players and others from the States took a lot of work and we are so proud we were able to do that,” McGinley reflected.
 
“That is what we want to be the case across the league - for clubs to be looking at attracting players of that calibre into the division and to be maintaining the top talent.
 
“2019 was our most memorable season but it was also great for all the clubs and the league too because of the standard and the title going right down to the wire.
 
“The transition for us following on from that was our biggest task - we had 16 players leaving the club and a similar number coming in - it was virtually a new squad.
 
“To finish third with that turnover of players was something that was satisfactory for us, but changing squads like that is a big challenge.”

This close-season has seen more wholesale changes in the playing staff; a raft of players have left the club including Northern Ireland international forwards and sisters Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness.
 
Another big recruitment drive was once again required; experienced goalkeeper Denise McElhinney has arrived Leah McGonagle and Hayley O’Donnell have arrived from Derry City and Linfield respectively, with Northern Ireland Under-19 international Aimee Neal joining from Lisburn Rangers.
 
The club are still hopeful of adding several more players before the season gets underway.
 
“Investing more in the youth structures is something we have been looking to do,” added McGinley.
 
“Moving forwards we need more stability and to give us that long-term structure - to have 15, 16 and 17-year-olds coming through our system every year.
 
“The nature of our club brings a lot of challenges in itself - we lose girls to GAA clubs as they usually need to choose between the two sports.
 
“It’s not only the Belfast clubs we battle with but the likes of Derry City who aren’t far down the road - a club who have the name, the brand and the facilities, so logically they should be ahead of us.
 
“We have a large contingent of players who come from Donegal and driving past Derry through to Strabane to play for us - so we need to make sure we stay above them, which is another challenge.
 
“We have a separate challenge within the town now too as Strabane Athletic have a ladies side starting too, and Finn Harps have similar ambitions who aren’t far from us.”
 
Sion start the campaign under their new management team on 28 April away to Linfield Ladies.