The Isle of Man Women’s Football Team swaggered into the St Lawrence Stadium, Jersey, laughing and smiling anticipating an easy opening to their NatWest Island Games journey in 2015.
Standing in their way were the Western Isles Women but IOM seemed confident almost dismissive of the challenge from the young Hebrideans, most of whom were still schoolgirls.
Fast forward 45-minutes and the smiles were long gone. Tempers were frayed in the IOM camp as they found themselves 2-0 against the talent-packed Western Isles squad.
There is so much which binds the core of the WIIGA Women’s Football squad together. A team neck deep in camaraderie and talent and a group of players who regularly produce acts of defiance and last-minute glory of a sheer, naked will to win.
Unfortunately in Jersey a lack of competitive game time, particularly 90-minute matches, caught up with the young squad who ran out of gas in the latter part of the IOM match and lost undeservedly 3-2. It was a learning curve for a team with an average age which is barely above teenage years.
And now with the experience now of having played two full seasons of top quality competitive football on the mainland – 90 minute wars against full-blooded and talent-packed rival squads – the likes of Beth Macleod, Eleanor Nicolson and Kirsty Macdonald are undoubtedly much more efficient footballers.
When the squad went to Jersey, the spine of the team was built up of then-schoolgirls.
Now those schoolgirls are university students playing top level football on a weekly basis and as a result sharper, wiser and meaner. Beth for example can now take up the positions she needs to, rather than making runs that might only provide a distraction to the opponent.
“It’s been going really well and we are really happy with how the preparation has been going,” said WIIGA Women’s Football Team manager Catherine Anne Macleod.
She was chatting to the Stornoway Gazette at the side of the Stornoway All Weather surface while keeping a keen eye on her squad training next to us.
“The girls are having five training sessions a week here locally and the mainland girls are training with their own clubs.
Much like the 2015 squad which competed in Jersey, the spine of the squad, and the bedrock upon which the future of Western Isles Womens Football will indeed now be built upon, come from the hugely successful girls school team from the Nicolson Institute.
For almost four years the Nicolson girls, who each have winners medals in both the Schools Scottish Cup and North of Scotland Cup, teenage stars full of blood, thunder
and athleticism have swept away all before them like a tsunami of fearlessness and
But now several of the girls are now getting minutes in their legs as university students.
Beth Macleod is playing with Hutchison Vale after having been with Hibs. Eleanor Smith and Isabelle Bain are with Glasgow Univeristy, Hannah Macleod is with Boroughmuir, Christy Houston and Amanda Nicolson are both playing with Granite Ladies in Aberdeen and Kirsty Macdonald has signed with Glasgow Girls.
The Women’s squad have earned a reputation at the At their last NatWest Island Games appearance the Western Isles Women’s Football squad earned a reputation as the underdog which bit back – hard!
A team, and a chain of islands, which often punch well above our collective weight. In women’s football terms there has been a clear trajectory of improvement for the girls in the international sporting ring where at their first Island Games (Rhodes 2007) the WIIGA Womens footballers claimed ninth spot.
Two-years later and they had clawed their way up to sixth spot (Aaland) before reaching the semi-finals in 2011 (Isle of Wight).
Catherine Anne has been involved in all four Games in which the women have competed both as a player and as manager and there are always regrets and ‘what ifs.’
“I would agree we ran out of legs a bit in 2015 against IOM,” said Catherine Anne, “but you live and learn as you go on.”
“The girls are two years older, much more physically stronger and we have put a real focus on the fitness element for Gotland which is why the squad have been training at 7:30 in the morning. We should be well prepared physically as we are all playing regularly and competitively.”
Reflecting on Jersey though and Catherine’s regret is obvious.
“We were two-up against Isle of Man so there are definitely ‘what ifs’. If we hadn’t give away that penalty which let them back into the game as Isle of Man were on the verge of giving up.
“You could see they were arguing amongst themselves and neither the players or the bench were happy. But that penalty gave them a goal back and a lifeline. Following that I was one way traffic and I often think back to that game and wonder ‘what if.’”
The squad collective has changed very slightly with only four changes in personell over the past two years.
“The core of the squad is the same and I’d say it is stronger now. What we lacked in Jersey was pace and I think the new girls certainly bring that. Shana Macphail is quick but Mary Macleod is just lightning,” said Catherine Anne.
“Also back in the squad is Christine MacQuarrie who is the comeback queen as I call her. “She can play anywhere between defence and midfield and her story is really inspiring. She was in the first women’s squad which took part in the Games back in 2007.
“After that she went away and had a family and has come back 10-years later to give it another shot. She is training well in Uist and she comes up to train with us every month. “She is looking very sharp and it is a real inspiration story for young girls and women that can go away and have children and then come back to sport and such a high level if they want to, and put the work in.”
The Western Isles have been drawn in a Aaland, Ynyhs Mhon and old foes Isle of Man in what appears to be the Group of Death.
Ynys Mhon are reportedly bringing with them the Welsh womens international keeper in between the posts for them. Recently released by Chelsea she will be a formidable last line of defence for Kirsty Macdonald and co to find way past.
And Aaland have only lost twice at this level in 10-years so it’s fair to say our WIIGA Warrior Women have found themselves drawn in the Group of Death but on the plus side, should they emerge from this group there is nothing in the latter stages which would hold any fears after these group games.
WIIGA Women’s Football: Cirsty Gilles; Christine Mackinnon; Amanda Nicolson, Christie Houston; Shana Macphail; Anne-Louise Stewart; Ann-Mairi Macleod; Beth Macleod; Rebekah Macleod; Mary Macleod; Kirsty Macdonald; Eleanor Smith; Sinead Macleod; Isabelle Bain; Hannah Macleod; Louise Martin and Christine MacQuarrie.