Derry City Women have become an established team in the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership but remain firm underdogs in the division.
The Candystripes have maintained their place at the top table but have often struggled up against league rivals with greater resources in recent years.
Last year, Kevin McLaughlin’s side failed to register a point in the shortened campaign but midfielder Alison McGonagle - one of a host of players to arrive at the Brandywell last year - insists that only serves to motivate the team.
Despite opening defeats against Cliftonville Ladies and Crusaders Strikers, Derry have had positives to take from both games - including home-grown star Grace Donaghey’s incredible long-range free-kick goal against the Crues last time out.
McGonagle explained: “Last year the rates of Covid were very high in Donegal and Derry so even travelling to training and matches was more complicated for us then other sides, then a lot of our team had the extra commitments of being involved in healthcare or teaching.
“It was difficult for us too as we had quite a few injuries and we never had any consistency in the team that we could put out, but this year will be different.
“Our opening performances has been an improvement on what it was previously, we know the club has had a difficult few years trying to compete at the top table but we are confident we are now getting there.
“I can speak on behalf of the whole team that we are absolutely determined to prove people wrong and show that we can get results at this level.”
This close-season saw club captain Coral Lapsley moving on due to work commitments while former Northern Ireland Under-19 star Leah McGonagle joined Sion Swifts.
However, many of the 13 arrivals from 2020 - including Alison McGonagle, who was previously a star at Illies Celtic in Donegal - are now embedded at the club while this week saw the return of Nicole Gordon after representing Donegal at GAA County level while more signings are being lined up by the Candystripes.
McGonagle, 24, echoed the positivity: “Despite the results we have had, the squad are all very positive - we can all see the improvements in training now beginning to show in matches.
“On top of that, we are signing new players and strengthening the squad - we are all positive about where we are going.
“Of our starting XI, about nine or ten of them - including myself - have only signed within the last year, so we all need time to adapt both individually but to gel as a team too.”
Boss Kevin McLaughlin had been a fixture in the dugout in recent years and McGonagle explained how he was instrumental in improving standards: “He has his own distinct style of football and he is never negative after results.
“He is always looking at what we can improve on and he does so much analysis behind the scenes.
“He knows there are mistakes but those can be corrected that can help us reach the level of the other clubs in the league who are more established.
“His passion is second to none and he always lifts our spirits and he is a huge part of the club.”
Derry will be looking to get their first points of the season on the board on Wednesday night as they welcome North-West rivals Sion Swifts to the Brandywell.
The two sets of players are familiar with each other due to the two clubs occupying a similar catchment area.
Midfielder McGonagle believes the gap between the two sides is smaller than ever and insists that her side will not be short on motivation ahead of the clash.
She added: “Even a lot of our players, like myself, have played against Sion when we are at our clubs in Donegal so we know what they’re about and there’s definitely a rivalry there.
“Some of their players have said about this being like a cup final for us because of that but that sort of talk just motivates us even more.
“I think a lot of the Sion players are not as confident playing against us this week as they have been in previous seasons - they have had a tough start too and we want to continue that for them.
“We will be fired up and it will be a great game on Wednesday.”