THE 2019/20 Ulster Women’s Premiership will begin as the 2017/18 campaign ended with a repeat of that season’s Rejenerate Cup final with a Tyrone derby clash as Dungannon Women host their Omagh Accies counterparts on Sunday afternoon.
The ‘Acciettes’ won that decider against what was then a combined Dungannon/Portadown outfit in their first season together. However, since then, Dungannon have emerged as a force in their own right, bouncing back to claim the Rejenerate Cup at the end of last term and earning promotion to the top flight as runners-up in the Championship in the process.
And while confidence is high after a successful maiden campaign, the Stevenson Park ladies know this term will be even tougher as they embark on life at the top table for the first time.
“We’re coming into a new league, so it’s a step up no matter how good you are and that’s something we’re working on – our intensity, our physicality and even just our ability to read the game,” explained skipper Cheryl McWilliams, who hopes her side can make a bright start on home ground.
“It’s all on the day but our girls are going to go out there, they’re going to work hard and give it a darn good shot.
“Being at home first will help settle the nerves a bit, the familiarity and the routine at home. We’re actually quite lucky that our first two games are at home.
“The first half of the year is to get confidence and find our patterns on the pitch. And then, I don’t see why we can’t push on after Christmas.”
Cheryl’s Omagh counterpart, Rachael McKeown, meanwhile admits she’s ‘excited and nervous’ ahead of her side’s opening top flight game of the season at Tyrone neighbours Dungannon this coming Sunday.
With a year in the top flight under their belts, the Acciettes believe they have learned a lot and while Dungannon are a little less experienced, McKeown and her charges won’t be taking them lightly.
“I don’t think you can be that confident because it’s all about game day, how the girls turn up and how they perform, you just don’t know what you’re going to get,” the Accies skipper explained.
“We don’t know how their girls have been training and they’ve obviously done very well to get up into the division we’re in, but we have to just play our game and I think, if we do that, we have a very good chance.
“Last year was a tough year for us, but it was one that we really enjoyed because we learned an awful lot playing at a higher level of rugby.
“This year, we can maybe dominate a bit more this year. It was a big step up for all our girls, but they are really enthusiastic, are putting in the hard work and the training is going well. They all want it as much as I do, which is great!”
*Kick-off at Stevenson Park on Sunday is 1pm. And both club’s men’s first teams are at home from 2.30pm on Saturday in their final SONI Ulster Premiership matches before the start of the All-Ireland League.
FULL STORIES IN YESTERDAY’S ULSTER AND DUNGANNON HERALDS