RACHEL Graham is confident Shelbourne can wrest back their Women’s National League crown following a disappointing fifth-place finish in 2017.
The Drumcondra club won a league and cup double in 2016 but were left to rue a slow start last year that saw them wait two months for their first win as Wexford Youths took their crown.
There was a much-improved performance in the Champions League where they were unlucky to narrowly miss out on top spot in their qualifying group, finishing the round unbeaten.
The off-season has seen a change in management with manager Mark Leavy and head coach Shaun Maher leaving and Ireland men’s junior international coach Danny Crowley taking charge.
Striker Noelle Murray has returned from Glasgow City and defender Jess Gleeson has arrived from the champions Wexford, while they’ve kept hold of the bulk of their first-team squad.
And Graham has sent out a warning that the club are in the the strongest position they’ve ever been – and have put right the mistakes that dogged last year’s campaign.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever really felt you wouldn’t know what 11 would be going out on the pitch,” Graham told the Dublin Gazette.
“Having Noelle and Rebecca [Creagh] back is great. I think it’s the strongest squad we’ve had. Last year, we had a really strong squad as well and it obviously didn’t go really well for us.
“We didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve, so having a strong squad definitely isn’t enough. We still need to play well and work hard every week.”
Pre-season has been disrupted not only by the change in manager but by the loss of key internationals with both the senior and Under-19s squads in extended training camps this week.
Shels are worst-afflicted as they supply more players than any team to the international set-up, with Leanne Kiernan and Roma McLaughlin among those away with the seniors in Fota Island.
With champions Wexford away in their opening encounter on Sunday, she admits there could be gentler ways to begin what promises to be the most competitive league yet.
“It’s been drilled into us this year that we’re not going to get anything easy. No game is a gimme. We’re not going to get a certain three points from any game.
“It’s been well-drilled into us that you do whatever you can to defend your goal. I think we’ll be a lot harder to beat this year and hopefully up the other end we’ll get a few more goals.
“Hard work will beat us if we don’t work hard. There’s definitely a few players hurting and looking to prove [people] wrong this year.”