Lewis football ace Kayleigh Mackenzie backs her Inverness Caley Women side for promotion to SWPL2

Inverness Caledonian Thistle Women’s FC star Kayleigh Mackenzie, who hails from the Isle of Lewis, hopes to help her team gain promotion to the second highest division in Scotland following the current coronavirus-delayed campaign.

By Craig Goldthorp
Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 4:35 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 4:38 pm
Inverness Caledonian Thistle Women’s FC ace Kayleigh Mackenzie

Kayleigh, 17, who made the step up to the senior ranks from Caley’s development team in February 2019 after impressing in trials, told the Stornoway Gazette that the whole squad are setting their sights on reaching SWPL2 by winning the Scottish Women’s Championship North Region league.

She said: “We are hoping to finish as league champions, which would give us straight promotion into SWPL2.

“We are really confident we can win the league because there’s girls in every position and every single game they just work their socks off.

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“We’re a really tight bunch of girls so we work really well together.”

Continuing covid-19 restrictions mean that Caley Thistle Women have only played two league games so far this season, a 5-1 home success over Westdyke on October 18 and a 5-2 home win over Buchan on November 1.

Kayleigh said: “That Westdyke game was a real test for me because last season I was starting near enough every game because the squad we had was so limited.

“We only had 17 at the most, but now we have a squad of 25 so the battle for positions is really, really tough this season.

“I was on the bench for the Westdyke game but I came on and scored. That gave me a really good confidence boost knowing that I can come on from the bench and make an impact.

“I then missed the Buchan game for medical reasons.”

Caley, currently second in the early standings, resume their league campaign – subject to coronavirus safety clearance – at Dunfermline Athletic Women next Wednesday, December 9.

“I would love to start that game, but the two girls I’m up against are obviously older,” she said.

“They read the game more than I do because I’m obviously quite a few years younger than them.

“I’m hoping to start, but if I’m on the bench I don’t mind as long as I’m getting a few minutes here and there.

Travel restrictions prompted by the covid-19 pandemic have meant that – unlike her team-mates who met up as usual in Inverness – for several weeks from April, Kayleigh had to train in isolation at home while ferries weren’t running to the mainland.

“I wasn’t able to see the girls and I wasn’t able to know what they were working on, so I was doing a totally different thing,” Kayleigh said.

“We were in lockdown so all I could do was to go out for runs for a specified time.

“I didn’t really push myself at the start because I didn’t know when the season was coming.

“I think that was my own fault a bit, but then I got my head in gear and I was like ‘right, this season is going to come pretty soon so I have to be ready for it’.

“I started to go out for runs every single day.

“My coach on the island was setting me five-kilometre targets and I was also getting challenges from my Inverness Caley coach Karen Mason – the same type of thing, like going for 5km runs, 10km runs, cycles – and I found that was really beneficial because at the start of last season I felt I wasn’t at my strongest.

“I didn’t feel fit at all in that season, but this season I was really, really fit and then obviously when we found out the league was starting, that was just a big push really just to get my fitness where all the other girls’ fitness was.

“They were training a few months before me.”

In recent months, Kayleigh has continued training two nights a week at home, while recent postponement of Caley Thistle women’s games has seen her do full-contact training with team-mates on the mainland on Sundays.

“As an athlete, my training this year has made me a lot stronger and fitter,” Kayleigh said.

“With lockdown, I’ve worked on my agility, my stamina, everything, and I feel a lot more confident going into this season than I did last season.

“I’ve lost quite a lot of weight but I’ve also toned it, and my legs and upper body are a lot stronger.

“That helps me in centre midfield when I’m battling or as a striker when I’m holding off a big defender.”

Although playing as a striker or attacking midfielder is Kayleigh’s forte, she has also showed her attributes as a goalkeeper!

She added: “I played a game last season in goal for Caley. That was a bit weird.

“We were against Hutchison Vale in a cup game and our goalkeeper wasn’t able to make it.

“We don’t have a sub goalkeeper so I just volunteered to go in goal because I’ve played there for the under-15 boys’ team up here, for Westside, so I was like ‘och, I’ll give it a shot’.

“We ended up winning by a big score and I didn’t let any in, which was the main thing.

“I think I made about three saves.

“I enjoyed it. Seeing the pitch from a goalie’s perspective, you see everything compared to a central midfielder or striker.

“It’s really, really interesting. I would do it again.”