Caley Thistle women’s development team boss Iain Firth praised his players for rising to the challenge by winning the Highlands and Islands League.
A gutsy 2-0 win over last season’s champions Clach at Inverness Royal Academy earned the women the title with a game to spare thanks to goals from Rhea Hossack and Natalie Macdonald.
The ICT triumph came just a few weeks after the Lilywhites knocked Caley Thistle out of the Highlands and Islands League Cup semi-finals 4-3 on penalties after a thrilling 5-5 draw.
Firth explained the manner of that cup loss acted as a spur for the team to go on and secure title glory.
He said: “There was such a disappointment of losing to Clach in the cup. It was 3-3 at the end of 90 minutes in that tie and we lost two goals in the first period of extra-time before we showed great spirit to get it to 5-5.
“I thought we’d go on and win, but losing the shoot-out that day gave us the drive to go on and win the league.
A massive congratulations to our H&I squad who today clinched the league title, beating reigning champions Clach 2-0 🏆 pic.twitter.com/x0V32S6ZCv
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle WFC (@ICTWFC) September 26, 2021
“We had a good team talk on Sunday morning and we knew it was in our own hands. We told them to enjoy it.
“It was a tough game. Clach played with the wind in the first half and we defended well. In the second half, Clach began to tire just a bit and we kept going.
“We’ve a fit squad and Rhea scored to put us ahead before Natalie scored a beauty of a goal – it was unstoppable – and there was no way of losing it from there.
“We have been goal machines this season, scoring more than 80 goals. We have shown we can score goals and we have been strong in terms of shut-outs too, so we’ll have quite a hard record to defend next season.”
Squad members well travelled
Firth pointed to a clutch of his champions literally putting in the miles in pursuit of winning the league.
He added: “One of our players, Amy Davidson, is in the RAF and she moved to Lincoln and travelled back for every game.
“We’ve also had four players away at university – Jenn Mackenzie, Layla Philips, Chloe MacAllister and Natalie Macdonald – and they have also returned to play in every match. That shows the desire and determination as we set out to win the league.
Congratulations to @CaledonianFc, SWF Highlands and Islands League winners 2021! 🏆👏
Match photos to follow on the SWF Facebook page 📸 https://t.co/F0hoIzpv7j
— Scottish Women’s Football (@ScotWFootball) September 26, 2021
“That really amazed me. They really have gone over and above for the cause by travelling hundreds of miles to play for the club. Overall, they are a resilient bunch of girls. We could not have asked any more of them.”
Keen to maintain momentum
Karen Mason’s first-team are competing in Championship North, with aspirations to secure promotion this season.
Firth feels there are players within the development squad who have the potential to make the step-up, although change will be needed again during the close season.
He said: “We have players capable of breaking into the first-team. We’ve already had players involved at that level, such as Rhea, who scored on Sunday.
“The problem we have got is that we’re going to lose a few players now and we’ll need new players in for next season. We want to keep the momentum going.
“We want to be strong as we go out to defend the title. I’m sure Clach will be out for revenge.”
Munro played key role before leaving
Firth was keen to pay credit to fellow coach Ally Munro, who played a key part in the Caley Jags’ success, despite moving on ahead of the title run-in.
He added: “I joined last year and been heavily involved in team selection from the start of the league season this year.
“Over the last six to eight weeks, I have taken it on myself because Ally left. That was fine because we were in a strong position. Ally put in an immense amount of work last season as well to help drive the club forward.”
The champions will round off their campaign on October 10 when they go to Helmsdale to take on Sutherland, although it’s to be confirmed whether ICT will get the trophy that afternoon.
This Sunday it's the SWF Highlands & Islands League Cup Final 🏆⬇
— Scottish Women’s Football (@ScotWFootball) September 27, 2021
Clach will get their chance to add to the trophy cabinet this weekend when they take on Sutherland in the Highlands and Islands League Cup final this Sunday at 2pm at Station Park, Nairn.