Women's Premiership: Five things to watch out for in the new season

By Andy GrayBBC Sport NI
Linfield Ladies celebrate the Women's Premiership title
Linfield beat Derry City on the final day of the season to edge Sion Swifts to the title on goal difference

Thrills, spills and plenty of drama. Here we go again.

After the twists and turns of last season, the NIFL Women's Premiership is ready to get football rocking in Northern Ireland once more.

Linfield claimed their fourth successive crown in the last campaign but Sion Swifts, Glentoran, Cliftonville, Crusaders and Derry City will be snapping at their heels in a condensed season.

With a 10-match sprint to the flag, we look at five things to watch out for when the new season begins on Wednesday.

You can watch highlights from the Women's Premiership each week on the BBC Sport website and keep up to date with all the action.

Linfield face strong challengers

Linfield Ladies celebrate
Linfield won their fourth successive Women's Premiership title in 2019 but Sion Swifts took it to the wire

How often do you see title battles done and dusted with games to spare? Well, that certainly wasn't the case in in the Women's Premiership last season.

Linfield may have been a dominant force in previous years but Sion Swifts took the title right to the wire, only missing out on top spot by goal difference in the final game of the season.

Phil Lewis' side have winning pedigree and cannot be discounted, however the Blues will be severely tested in the defence of their crown.

Star players Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness have departed (more on that later) while influential Northern Ireland midfielder Chloe McCarron is set to secure a move to England.

Given their relentless purist of success, you could almost forgive the Blues for having a season of transition but they will not give up their crown without a fight and contain quality right through the squad.

With the 10-game format due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it means that every single point will matter and it should be just as close, if not even tighter, than last season.

The McGuinness sisters

Caitlin and Kirsty McGuinness
The signings of Caitlin and Kirsty McGuinness could been a massive boost for Sion Swifts

This one certainly caught the eye, didn't it? Even if you don't follow the Women's Premiership closely, Kirsty McGuinness is a name you are bound to know.

After leading the Blues to title glory in the last campaign, McGuinness and younger sister Caitlin have made the jump to Sion Swifts.

Kirsty netted 32 goals 21 in games last campaign and it turns out finding the back of the net is in the genes of the McGuinness family, with Caitlin firing home 19 goals in her first full season for the Blues.

Led by Tasmin McCarter, the Swifts are far from a two-player team, however adding the prolific duo to their ranks could be decisive in the destination of this year's title and arguably makes the Strabane-based outfit favourites for the 2020 crown.

Coming so close to a title but missing out can either make - see Liverpool - or break - see Ballymena United - a side the following campaign, but you get the sense that the Women's Premiership could be heading out of Belfast for the first time since Newry City's success in 2015.

Cup specialists to league success?

Jessica Foy lifts the Irish Cup
Glentoran have been cup specialists in recent seasons

When it comes to the league campaign, Glentoran have been the nearly team in recent seasons, however they have managed to hit form in the cup games with great success.

The Glens secured a treble of cup triumphs during the last campaign - wrapping up the League Cup, County Antrim Cup and Irish Cup - which shows they can beat anyone on their day, and now the question lingers if they can mount a title challenge.

The east Belfast side have lost some key players, most notably Demi Vance and Jessie Davis, however the acquisitions of Northern Ireland goalkeeper Jaqueline Burns, the returning Caragh Hamilton, NI international Hannah Doherty and Derry captain Shannon Dunne should put them in a good place to push for the league crown.

There's a winning touch in Billy Clarke's side, the steady flow of trophies back that up, and now the challenge is there to try and bring the title back to the Oval for the first time since 2014.

Stars on show

Northern Ireland's Megan Bell
Megan Bell is one of a number of Women's Premiership stars to earn moves to Scotland or England

From Northern Ireland internationals to future stars, there is a plethora of talent in the Women's Premiership.

In the last year alone, Tyler Toland, Demi Vance, Megan Bell, Lauren Perry and Billie Simpson - the scorer of that famous goal - are just some of the players who have made the switch across the water to football in England and Scotland.

For younger players breaking through the ranks, the chance to play with Northern Ireland internationals and shine in the top flight is a valuable experience and can lead of further opportunities further afield.

There are still top players staying this side of the water too, with Cliftonville's Marissa Callaghan, Linfield's Ashley Hutton and Crusaders' Julie Nelson all plying their trade in Northern Ireland's top flight and representing the international team on a regular basis.

There's a great blend of youth and experience in the Women's Premiership, and that can only bode well for the future.

Can Derry step up?

Derry City and Linfield
Derry City will start the new campaign with a fresh impetus

With Comber Rec dropping out of the top flight and not being replaced, a six-team league awaits this season and Derry will head into the new campaign as the underdogs.

Kevin McLaughlin's side have had an overhaul in the off season. Skipper Shannon Dunne departs to Glentoran but Derry have taken advantage of their cross-border connections by bringing in several talented players from Donegal-based Greencastle, Culdaff and Illies FC.

Goalkeeper Clare Friel, signed from Fanad, should provide a steady pair of hands between the sticks while defender Leah McGonagle and midfielder Coral Lapsley also have the ability to earn the Candystripes some valuable points. Derry-native Kathryn Canavan, who has joined from Leyton Orient, is also an exciting addition.

With effectively a new new squad at their disposal, Derry head into the new campaign under the radar and as an unknown quantity, but the Brandywell outfit will be hoping to claim some big-name scalps as they continue to progress in the Women's Premiership.

Opening fixtures (Wednesday, 26 August, 20:00 BST)
Derry CityvSion Swifts
Linfield vCrusaders Strikers

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