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Glentoran can make real title push this season, says Kelly Bailie

 

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Clear aim: Kelly Bailie has her sights on the league crown

Clear aim: Kelly Bailie has her sights on the league crown

�INPHO/Declan Roughan

Clear aim: Kelly Bailie has her sights on the league crown

Kelly Bailie will lace up her boots to kick off a 24th season tonight - and she isn't just playing for the fun of it.

The highly-decorated Glentoran Women's midfielder - who took her career medal tally to 30 when the Glens won the Irish Cup last September - is hungry to keep on winning.

It is six years since the east Belfast girls last lifted the league title - before it became the Danske Bank Women's Premiership - and after shelving retirement plans, Kelly, who has celebrated her 40th birthday since last season's Cup triumph, is determined to close that gap.

After also winning the County Antrim Challenge Cup and League Cup last season, the league title is now the top target.

With just 10 games apiece in a season that has been cut in half due to the effects of coronavirus, any team that hits form early will give themselves a real chance of lifting the silverware.

"My mindset flat out is that I play because I want to win and I want the team to be successful," said Kelly, whose Glentoran side face a trip to Cliftonville Ladies in tonight's league opener.

"We always measure ourselves against ourselves and the teams that we have had for the last couple of years have pushed for a while in the league and then we've had slip-ups.

"We would look back and think that those slip-ups were more to do with ourselves than other teams.

"Other teams have been strong but we have the quality there, it's just trying to get the final pieces.

"Looking at the girls over lockdown and how they have come back, this has to be the year we see progression and the league is on everyone's mind."

Kelly had considered retirement over the winter. Even when she returned to training early in the year, she wasn't certain that she would play for another season.

Pre-season workouts gave her the spark back and after fearing that the Covid-19 pandemic might take the decision out of her hands, it was being denied the opportunity to play for four months that put the idea of hanging up her boots on hold.

"I thought I would come in and do a bit of training and see how I felt," said Kelly, who won over 50 caps during her international career.

"I actually felt really good and thought, 'I can get another season' and then when coronavirus hit I thought I definitely couldn't go out on that.

"I tried to keep myself fit during lockdown and I felt that there are a lot worse things going on in the world and while I can play I will play.

"I did have the intention to play, but I have been taking things year-to-year and at one stage I thought I might miss this year completely and not get the final year that I thought.

"Hopefully with it being a shorter season I can get through and then reassess."

Despite being twice the age of some of her team-mates, Kelly's focus on the training ground is helping her keep up with her younger colleagues.

"I am almost more driven because I know that I have to train extra hard just to maintain a standard, especially with the younger players coming through," she said.

The Glens last night announced the signing of Northern Ireland Under-17 international Shona Davis from Cliftonville Ladies.

TONIGHT'S FIXTURES: Cliftonville Ladies v Glentoran Women, Linfield Ladies v Crusaders Strikers, Derry City Women v Sion Swifts Ladies (all 8pm).

Belfast Telegraph