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Womens Premiership


24 Aug 2021
It is rare for a footballer to hold such longevity at a club that enjoy a testimonial season but such is Danielle McDowell’s commitment to Crusaders Strikers, she could have two.
The veteran midfielder is in her 20th season at Seaview, initially when the club was named Newtownabbey Strikers before merging with the Crues.
She admits that this campaign may be her last but insists that when the day comes to hang up her boots - she will be remaining in a prominent position at the North Belfast side.
“I still enjoy the training sessions, the matches and everything that comes with being part of the team - but I do feel the pains more now than in the past,” the former Northern Ireland international explains. 
“I have not had a break in my career and have had a few bad injuries, and sometimes you can feel that starting to take its toll on the body a bit.
“I’m fully concentrated on the rest of the season both in the league and our cup games, then I will have a decision to make on my playing career. 
“If you look at Marissa Callaghan who is around the same age as me - she had a break in her career and was away from the international scene for a bit, and now she is fitter than ever, so that break was vital for her career. 
“In the past I would have been bossing games in midfield but now you notice that you’re not quite as quick and agile as the younger players - and I don’t want it to get to the stage where I’m not improving the team. 
“But no matter what decision I make, I won’t be walking away from the club. I am Crusaders through and through. 
“I’m the head of the Youth Academy here and have always been a fan of the Crues - so I’m going nowhere.” 
McDowell has been involved in coaching circles for a number of years and has been prominent in the Women’s Performance Academy, designed to prepare talented local teenagers into the world of senior football - many of whom are starring in the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership. 
“The aim is to get these girls coming through on pro deals, and each year there are more girls coming through this system and playing at high levels,” added McDowell. 
“A lot of the girls who are now aged 18 and have been about the league for a few years were part of my Elite Development Squad - it’s great to see them coming through. 
“You see the level they’re reaching already for the likes of Glentoran - there are several first-team regulars there now who are at international level and they have massive futures. 
“There have been a number of coaches involved - including the likes of Gail Redmond from the Glens - and because of the investment, there are the opportunities for these girls to push on and develop.” 
McDowell last year married Jonny Tuffey - who was appointed as first-team coach until the end of the season at the Strikers following the exit of Spike Hill.  
Tuffey, who had previously been goalkeeping coach at the club and helping out with training sessions, remains the first-choice on the men’s team at Seaview. 
“We both have those decisions to make at the end of the season and see what is best for us and our family,” continued McDowell.
“Jonny is a great coach but he also knows how to motivate the players and manage them - but he has a lot of training with the men’s team and he has a full-time job too.
“At the moment things are going great - me and Julie Nelson are coaching the girls too and we have been coaching for a lot more time than he has, because Jonny had focused on his playing career.
“But he has really enjoyed his coaching work too here with Maddy Harvey-Clifford - her development is down to her quality, hard-work and dedication but Jonny’s coaching has definitely helped that.
“He started off as a fan of the club and slowly he has become more and more involved, taking training session etc - so it was a natural transition.”
The Strikers are currently well placed in cup competitions and are on course for a top three finish in their league campaign, but the midfielder insists they are hungry for more.
She added: “Recent years has seen us rely on our youth academy and each year the aim is to bring each age group into the first-team squad every year, rather than recruiting from elsewhere.
“These girls all have 10 or 15 years of playing experience with the club even though they’re still so young - they have always played in the same teams and have a great spirit.
“That helps explain why we are so defensively solid and difficult to beat - so we are only one or two players away from really competing regularly for league titles. 
“We will be looking to sign a few players going into next season around the mid-20s age mark just to give us that little bit more experience. 
“We are disappointed that we are so far off the top two - they have a little bit more than us in terms of their personnel but we know the gap can be bridged. 
“Finishing third and two cup semi-finals is not enough for us - we want to win trophies.”