It has been a quiet close season of transfer activity at Linfield Ladies but boss Phil Lewis insists the club’s crop of youngsters can challenge at the top of the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership.
The Blues finished last season in second place - ending their run of four successive league titles - while star player Casey Howe was snapped up by title rivals Glentoran this year.
However, Linfield finished last season with 13 points from their final five games and there is confidence at the club that this upturn in form will carry into the new campaign.
Lewis explained: “Our intention is to try and win the league title back.”
“We have very good players at Linfield and we are approaching this season with no fear - to instil that attitude into the players, such as with Kenny Shiels did with Northern Ireland.
“It’s really important for the players to not have a mindset whereby they are scared of making mistakes and have the self-confidence to play to their strengths.
“This league will go down to some big games and there is no question that we are going to work extremely hard, give our all and continue to improve as a team.”
The club’s youth system continues to produce high quality players each campaign with multiple teenagers involved in the senior squad.
Lewis is confident that this approach will continue the team in good stead: “I’ve been here for four years now and bringing players through has been something we have been doing each season.
“Abbie Magee is out for the season through injury and instead of moving a player out of position or signing someone who might not bring an upgrade to our team, we look to promote a youngster and develop them.
“Casey Howe is the only loss from the first-team this season but we already had two young girls - Cora Morgan and Katie Dickson - who were replacing Casey when she was injured and that has given us ready-made replacements.
“There is going to be over 20 matches this season and we have to make sure we have a good enough squad in place to be in competitive.
“Last season was only 10 matches but the European game in Belgium was an excellent team-bonding session and allowed us to really gel as a team in a difficult season of disruption.
“As long as stay relatively injury free, I’m quietly confident on what we can achieve this season.”
However, the Blues are light on bodies compared to reining champions Glentoran and over the course of a full season - they will be wary of having resources stretched.
“We are hopeful of bringing in one or two more,” added Lewis.
“We have a high threshold for what level of player we bring in - they have to be higher than what we already have because our preference is always for developing younger girls instead.
“It cannot be a player of similar quality because that can hold back the younger players and we want to give them an environment of first-team opportunities and game-time to improve.
“We have had a look at others who have joined other clubs, but maybe those clubs are more attractive to them right now.
“The standard of the league is higher than ever and will mean we have to work extra hard in our games but you can only put 11 players on the pitch, and those line-ups will make for a very tight league.”
As with every team, Linfield’s preparations for this season has been particularly challenging and they are chomping at the bit to kick-off their season against Sion Swifts on Wednesday evening.
Lewis concluded: “We have had months of training but not much of a pre-season - we played Northern Ireland a few times before their playoff against Ukraine, but organising games has been tough.
“That has left us having to organise internal games where there is eight or nine a side, but the players have worked so hard in training to get themselves to the levels we need to be at for the season beginning.
“We are excited and relieved to be back into the routine of regular matches again.”