Hibernian begin their defence of the SWPL Cup with a tricky trip to East Fife, and we caught up with Hibs’ Head Coach Chris Roberts ahead of the game.
After winning the SWPL Cup and SSE Scottish Cup last season, Hibernian go into 2017 with the ambition of securing the treble and stopping Glasgow City winning what would be their 11th title in a row.
Roberts was full of praise towards his players, saying that they continue to impress him with their dedication to training, and their work had been “first class.” He was also pleased with the variety of friendlies: playing SWPL 1 sides Hamilton Academical and Stirling University and the WSL 1 side Liverpool. However, he described the “only blip in pre-season” as when Sunderland had to cancel their scheduled friendly, leaving them with a free weekend.
New and Familiar Faces
Hibernian have made three new signings, including two familiar faces to the club. Goalkeeper Hannah Reid has rejoined from Bristol City, having made the move down south in 2015. Reid’s first spell with Hibs lasted 12 years and Roberts described her transition back into the squad as “really easy”, praising her “likeable and bubbly character”.
Around the same time, Katey Turner left Hibs to move to Rangers to get first-team football, and last year, she scored seven goals in the league. Like with Reid, Roberts praised her personality and believing the fact that she knows the majority of the squad has helped her settle into the squad.
They’ve also recruited Scotland Under-19 international Amy Gallacher from Forfar Farmington who, despite not knowing as many of her new teammates has “settled in really well” according to Roberts. He stated that he “would have preferred to have had more games to settle these players into the squad” but felt that this would be achieved early on in the season.
He stated that the club’s policy was always to promote Development players ahead of bringing new players into the squad, and pointed out that the majority of the first-team squad had come through Hibs’ academy, saying the club was “extremely proud” of this fact.
Hibernian’s Development Squad
As well as these three players, Hibernian have continued to promote players from their Development Squad. Roberts said, “it’s one of the biggest priorities I have at the club to make sure there is a clear pathway for our most exciting and best players coming through our academy.” He stated that the club’s policy was always to promote Development players ahead of bringing new players into the squad, and pointed out that the majority of the first-team squad had come through Hibs’ academy, saying the club was “extremely proud” of this fact. This season, Ellis Notely and Shannon Leishman have been promoted from the Development squad.
Their Development Squad will pose another benefit in their SWPL Cup First Round tie against East Fife. In last season’s SWFL Division One Cup, Hibernian Development beat East Fife in the 2-1 Final, with Leishman’s header securing the cup. Roberts stated that he had done their homework on their opponents, as well as speaking to his Development coaching team. Whilst admitting Hibs’ are the clear favourites to win the tie, he also spoke about the importance of respecting a side that won their title with a 100% record. He praised their Head Coach Liz Anderson, someone that he had worked with before, and declaring that East Fife will be “extremely well set up and hard to beat”.
A “Privilege and an Honour”
The First Round of the SWPL Cup has been seeded, guaranteeing that an SWPL 2 side is drawn against an SWPL 1 side. This is the first time this has happened, but Roberts stated that he didn’t have a “massive opinion on it”. As he pointed out, for any side to win the SWPL Cup, they will have to beat the best teams out there – and Hibs faced Celtic in the First Round last season. He felt the intention of the SWPL was to ensure competitive games later on in the tournament, but pointed out that the majority of cups run by UEFA or FIFA is now seeded. Roberts did admit, though, the side-effect was that this did make it harder for SWPL 2 sides to make a longer cup run.
For the first time since the 2012 season, Hibernian go into this season as the holders of the SWPL Cup. He described it as a “privilege and an honour to hold the Scottish Cup and League Cup” and spoke about the club’s ambition to retain both cups, as well as make progress in the league – but to do this, he admitted they would have to up their game once more.
The League Is Getting More Competitive
With all three domestic trophies, it is easy to declare that their rivals will be Glasgow City – however, Celtic have made great strides in the pre-season with their recruitment, including signing ex-Hibernian forward Sarah Ewens. Roberts described Celtic as “strong favourites” for the SWPL 1 title, saying Hibs’ viewed “Glasgow City and Celtic in the same level of competition in what’s really going to be a tough season.”
“We’ve done well to stay ahead of Celtic over the last few years but that challenge is getting tougher and tougher. We’ve been catching up more and more with Glasgow City over the years and hopefully, we can continue to do that.”
However, he also made the point that whilst Glasgow City, Hibs and Celtic will be fighting for the title, none of those three sides could relax against the other SWPL 1 sides, describing the league as “more and more competitive”.
He pointed that Aberdeen had caused them issues over the past two years, especially at Heathryfold Park – and that last season, Stirling University had beaten Celtic and Spartans defeated Glasgow City 3-0 in the league. And last weekend, Rangers defeated Glasgow City 2-1 in a friendly match.
Roberts stated, “we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball in terms of anyone else in the league who could affect the outcome of the league.”