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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Alan Campbell

Alan Campbell: Prestigious award marks sharp rise on and off the field for Hearts

Herts manager Eva Olid

IT is now approaching four years since the Hearts agm when Ann Budge announced that Hearts Ladies – as they were then quaintly called – would be fully integrated into the main club. That meant a year-on-year six-figure investment, including an expansion of the club's youth academy.

On Thursday, Hearts were rewarded with the European Club Association's Women's Football Award. And the season hasn't started too shabbily on the pitch either, with the Edinburgh club sitting fourth in the table behind the team they will face today at Petershill Park, Glasgow City.

There has been heavy recruitment since last season when Hearts finished eighth out of 10. Defender Emma Brownlie and midfielder Ciara Grant joined from Rangers, but the majority of the new signings have arrived from south of the border.

Sean Burt, who is assistant to Spanish manager Eva Olid, said: “Eva and I identified the English Championship as being similar to our league, so we delved into that market and watched players we were potentially interested in.

“We got the majority of our first targets, and it's testament to Eva that we had other ones lined up also. We were never scrambling, we always identified a certain profile of player and went about it that way.”

Striker Georgia Timms has been the most eye-catching arrival to date, scoring six of Hearts' nine league goals. The 24-year-old was signed from Lewes, and in the final game of last season found the net in a 2-1 win against league winners Liverpool (who beat Chelsea in their opening WSL game last weekend).

“We wanted Georgia from the off,” Burt pointed out. “She's extremely quick and prolific in front of goal and has a lot of strength in terms of her physicality and work rate. She just ticked so many boxes.”

Central defender Vyan Sampson, who made her debut against Dundee United last Sunday after her international clearance came though, joined from Charlton. Having had experience at Arsenal and West Ham, as well as being a Jamaican internationalist and former England Under-19 player, she is another who can be expected to make an impact.

At Budge's 2018 announcement it was underlined that Hearts would progress methodically and at a realistic pace. They were playing in SWPL 2 at the time and have always been, at best, the third club in Edinburgh behind Hibernian and Spartans.

Those teams meet today at Ainslie Park, with Spartans sixth in the table, and Hibs seventh. So, is this the season when Hearts can emerge as the capital's highest finishing club?

“We don't focus on Hibs and Spartans too much – we set our own targets,” Burt responded. “We'll have a better indication after we've played a full round of fixtures, but it's a decent start.

“With the players we've brought in and results going well I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be in the top six. That's the goal that has been set internally.”

BENFICA, I'm told, are confident they will qualify for the Champions League group stage for a second successive season. They are entitled to take that view, having been deserving 3-2 winners in an entertaining first leg at Ibrox on Tuesday.

It is unfortunate for Rangers that, having let title winning central defenders Brianna Westrup and Chantelle Swaby go in the summer, the players brought in to replace them, Kathryn Hill and Hannah Davison, have been forced to miss both Benfica games through injury. They are not expected to return until after the international break.

Tessel Middag and Lisa Martinez, if played again, will have their work cut out as Kika Nazareth is expected to return to the Benfica attack, with Jessica Silva also starting. Brazilian striker Marta Cintra, who missed a sitter before Kayla McCoy opened the scoring for Rangers, is likely to drop to the bench.

I HAVE long admired Clare Shine, both as a footballer and a person. The 27-year-old has had well documented mental health and addiction problems which led to two suicide attempts.

Yesterday's announcement that she will retire after the Hearts game today came as a big surprise, particularly as the Irish striker looked to have returned to full physical fitness after her traumas. She is to continue in her other role as project co-ordinator for the Glasgow City Foundation.

Despite her problems, which were addressed with searing honesty in her book, “Scoring Goals in the Dark”, Shine scored 70 goals in 105 City appearances. They included a hat-trick in the 2015 Scottish Cup final and the outstanding late winner against Hibs at Tynecastle in the same competition four years later.

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