Katie Cleland believes Caley Thistle Women can use their Scottish Cup meeting with Rangers as motivation to aim for bigger and better things.
The SWPL leaders beat the Highland club 12-0 in the third round of the cup on Sunday, with the tie played in front of a record crowd for Caley Thistle Women – with 1,031 fans inside the Caledonian Stadium.
Although it ended in defeat, manager Karen Mason hailed their clash with full-time professional opposition as a “great learning experience” for the Inverness players – and winger Cleland agrees, saying it is something which has boosted the home players, fans and north women’s football generally.
‘It was a really good experience’
Cleland came up against Scotland stars Jane Ross and Nicola Docherty, who were two of nine international players to feature in Rangers’ full-strength starting XI.
Inverness winger Cleland said: “Rangers are a full-time team, but, for us, it was good to see us sticking in and really focusing on being organised and holding tight as a unit.
“It was a lot of running – don’t get me wrong – but, it was a really good experience. I think we can learn a lot from it and take that forward when we go back to the league.
“Their coach (Jo Potter) commented we were not too dissimilar to the teams in the bottom half of their league (SWPL), so it does give us motivation to push on and aim to be playing in the leagues above.
“We don’t often get Premier League teams coming up to Highlands, so it was a great day for women’s football in the north.
“They are a team full of internationals and it allows the local girls who came to watch to see what they can aspire to be, which is really good.
“Although she didn’t play in the game because she was injured, Rachel McLauchlan plays for Rangers and is a product of the north of Scotland. She was given opportunities up here, but her mum and dad did have to drive her around a bit as well.
“There has been a lot of growth in the women’s game, and – hopefully – with some more funding and some more opportunities, things will keep improving.”
Cleland’s buzz from Caledonian Stadium debut
The last time the women’s team played at the Caledonian Stadium, Cleland was sidelined with a long-term anterior cruciate ligament injury, so the winger was delighted to finally get to play at the ground.
She said: “Playing at the stadium was great. Everyone was buzzing beforehand.
“I had never played at the stadium before because of an injury. That was my first experience and I can’t believe the difference.
“I was more buzzing when I stepped on to the pitch, and I just thought to myself: ‘This is what it is really about’ – the 10-year-old diehard football fan me would’ve loved being able to do this.”