Cliftonville Ladies captain Marissa Callaghan has called on her teammates to win silverware this season as she insists this is the “best team” in the club’s history.
Callaghan has spent two decades at Solitude but the club have never won the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership, with Belfast rivals Linfield, Glentoran and Crusaders enjoying greater success at the top table.
The club won the County Antrim Challenge Cup in 2018 and have previously won the Irish Challenge Cup and League Cup (both in 2015) but now have their eyes on the big prize.
Callaghan, who at 35 remains one of the league’s star players and a regular for Northern Ireland, explained: “This is my 20th season at the club and this is hands down the best team we have had.
“The club have invested more than ever in the women’s team and made the setup a real professional one, with a full coaching team in place.
“They have created a culture of self-belief and a real fighting spirit throughout the squad.
“We want to win silverware this season - we have the players to do it and we believe this is our chance.”
The Reds recruitment policy over summer caught plenty of attention with three Northern Ireland internationals joined the club.
The McGuinness sisters Kirsty and Caitlin both arrived from Sion Swifts with Louise McDaniel joining following spells at Blackburn Rovers and Hearts.
However, 11 teenagers have been involved in matchday squads for the Reds so far this campaign and they remain a young and relatively inexperienced side.
Callaghan added: “The spine of our team is made up of teenagers, and four of those players have come through our youth system - they have been outstanding so far this season.
“They have been holding their own within games but obviously it is a huge step up from youth football to this level of football.
“There is a real competitive culture within the squad and to have several internationals coming in over summer has really upped the ante.
“Their arrivals made sure everyone raised their game because that is the level that is expected now and there is competition for every position."
After winning their opening six league games of the campaign, last week’s 4-1 loss at Glentoran was somewhat of an eye-opener for Cliftonville.
They are now four points off the Glens at the top but do have two games in hand over their rivals and Callaghan believes the defeat has handed plenty of lessons to her side.
“We did not show up and I think that throughout the team we don’t have enough experience to deal with those situations,” she said.
“To have six wins from six going into the game, we were maybe a bit complacent and we were not able to step up to Glentoran coming out of the blocks very quickly.
“We have looked at the performance in our training sessions and the coaches have analysed things so now it’s our job to correct those wrongs.
“If you are winning a lot you can become a little complacent, so that defeat has really focused our minds and reminded us that if we aren’t on top of our game then we will be punished.
“Throughout a season you have highs and lows, so we need to make sure we bounce back to winning ways as soon as possible.”
Cliftonville now travel to Sion Swifts on Wednesday night, just days after Sion - whose head coach is now Ryan McConville - recorded their first league victory of the campaign with an eye-catching six-goal triumph over Linfield.
“We know exactly how tough Sion are to beat - we came away from there with a 1-0 win earlier in the season and it was a real battle,” added Callaghan.
“The next game is always the next important one and we have put that defeat last week out of our minds.
“For them to beat a team like Linfield 6-0 is an incredible result and they will be on a high going into this one, so we need to make sure we are fully focused and ready to manage that.”