SHELBOURNE assistant manager Laura Heffernan admits there is less room for error than ever as the Reds look to regain the Women’s National League title for the first time in four years.
With the national league expanding to nine teams in 2020 with the accession of Bohemians, Athlone Town and Treaty United, the fixture schedule has been reduced to 16 games from 21.
Instead of facing one another three times, each side will face the others once at home and once away – a fairer system, but one that leaves little margin for slip-ups.
Shels missed out on the title by just two points last season, taking the title race right down to the final day before being pipped to the post by Peamount United.
The Drumcondra side could look to the scoreless draw at home to Galway early in the season as the decisive dropped points, having beaten Peamount late in the season to take it to the wire.
“I suppose last year you could win, lose and draw a game against one of the top teams and still go on and win the league,” Heffernan told Dublin Gazette.
“The fact it’s only home and away once, there is definitely less room for error and the team that is most consistent will probably lift the trophy at the end.”
While Peamount made the eye-catching signing of the off-season with the return of Ireland striker Stephanie Roche from Series A in Italy, Shels have brought in their own ex-international, Ciara Grant.
The 26-year-old spent last season in Northern Ireland with Sion Swifts as they lost out on goal difference to Linfield, and she brings a wealth of experience to the dressing room.
“Ciara came in and she brings a load of experience with her, and she’s settled in really well.
“If you look through the squad, you have Jamie Finn, who’s now a senior international.
“The likes of Pearl Slattery, Jess Gleeson, Jess Gargan; they have loads of experience. Hopefully they’ll be able to bring the younger players up, look after them and get them ready.”
With the 2020 league set to be one of the most competitive yet, Heffernan is optimistic that the standard will continue to improve as the sport gains in popularity.
“I think the league has improved massively over the past few seasons, and it’s great to have so many home-based players in [senior squads].
“Stephanie coming back obviously shows that the quality of football is here, and people will get out and want to see her play with what she’s done in the last couple of years.
“The big aim down the line is to offer players more so they can stay here in this country and make the league better.”