The Danske Bank Women’s Premiership is built on clubs with strong team spirits and close bonds between teammates.
Nowhere is the truer than at Sion Swifts Ladies, who have established themselves as a major player in the division and as the foremost challenger outside of Belfast.
The club has thrived in recent years by signing and developing younger players not only from their Strabane catchment area but also over the border, with many of Donegal’s brightest talents joining their ranks.
Forward Michelle McDaid is one of those Donegal-based players who made the ‘big commitment’ to join the club aged just 17 and she believes the club now ‘feels like home’ for her.
“It was a big commitment to join the club at the time,” McDaid explains.
“I was still young and you have to sign up to all the travelling, you have training twice a week then matches on top of that - it’s an hour-long journey.
“But it was the best decision and I feel that Sion are my home club; this is such a close-knit team because I have plenty of friends off the pitch as well as on it.
“There is a group of us who are all from Donegal who are currently at the club, I travel with Erin Fildara (McLaughlin) but the likes of Kerryanne Brown and Leah McGonagle come from that neck of the woods too.
“Sion relies a lot on players coming in from Donegal along with players from Northern Ireland and we have a really good mix in the squad.
“It was a tough decision to leave because of me moving for uni but it felt like an easy choice to return to the club after I had moved back home.
“Nowhere will feel like home like Sion does.”
McDaid spent two seasons in Sion’s first-team before spending last year at Cliftonville - a decision fuelled by her move to Jordanstown for university.
Now back home in Donegal, McDaid has re-joined Sion and she believes that whilst this season has not been an easy one for the club, they are in the right direction under manager Tony McGinley and head coach Ryan McConville.
“As a team we know we have the talent and we have underperformed this year,” the 21-year-old continued.
“Personally I would love to get a win over Cliftonville having played for the club and knowing a lot of the girls there, whom we have had a tough time against this season.
“It has been tough physically and mentally - we had a big run of losses at the start of the season, and that was really tough for us to take.
“We prided ourselves in previous seasons of always outworking opposition teams and never having a work ethic below anyone else, maybe at the start of this season we weren’t being tested enough.
“Ryan coming in and Tony coming back to the club has made a big difference - the players are very young and what we are being coached, we are soaking up like sponges.
“We had the mentality that we had nothing to lose, so we took more risks and took everything on board.
“The younger players have really stepped up and whilst this has been a tough season - we have a really bright future with this game.”
McDaid is now a regular goal-scorer in the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership but it was not always the most obvious position for her, after starting out as a goalkeeper in school.
She explained: “I always played football in school with boys, but then one of them was a goalkeeper so that gave me the chance to move to playing outfield.
“It was a lot more fun to play in a different position and to run about a bit - and I realised that I had a bit of pace and skill, so I have played either upfront or as a winger ever since!
“As a forward you’re always looking to score more goals.
“One of the things we have struggled with as a team is to get the ball forward quickly enough - sometimes we have felt a bit isolated.
“A big part of my game is to help others get on the scoresheet too and I see myself as much as a provider as a scorer.”
Sion travel to title-challenging Cliftonville on Wednesday with a 7.45pm kick-off at Solitude.