Linfield Ladies star expects tough title tussle as Blues look to retain Premiership crown
Linfield Ladies will be hoping to get the defence of their Danske Bank Women's Premiership crown off to a winning start when they host Sion Swifts Ladies at Midgley Park tonight.
The women's football season in Northern Ireland began on Monday with the first round of the County Antrim Cup, in which Phil Lewis' Linfield lost 1-0 to Cliftonville.
The league campaign kicks-off tonight, with the Blues keen to hit the ground running and happy to wear the favourites tag.
Lewis said: "We are really looking forward to it, especially after the league launch last week at Windsor Park. Sion are a very strong team and we need to be up for it.
"We were defeated 1-0 by Cliftonville in Monday's County Antrim Cup and that will hopefully give us the kick up the backside to change things around.
"Sion are a very dangerous side, we played them three times last year and they beat us 2-0 in Sion and we won the other fixtures but the scorelines flattered us. Sion have strengthened over pre-season and their fifth-place finish didn't show a true account of their talent last year.
"As champions we need to believe in ourselves from the start. Challenge-wise for the league, Cliftonville showed what they can do in our defeat there and Glentoran are strong along with Sion Swifts. Crusaders are mentioning that they are more in transition this year but I believe they'll put it up to us as well.
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"I expect Glentoran, Cliftonville and Sion to be our toughest opponents."
Sion Swifts travel to Belfast knowing the task they have ahead of them.
The Swifts have been busy in pre-season with the signing of Jamaican international goalkeeper Nicole McClure.
Sion manager Tony McGinley said: "Nicole has played numerous games for Jamaica and was involved in their penalty shoot-out win that qualified them for the World Cup this summer in France.
"She has settled in very well and she's keen to experience the league and we are very much excited to have her playing with us.
"Nicole has ambitions of playing professionally in England and when I got the call from a friend in America I thought it was a wind-up but we can't wait to get started. Our opening fixture away to Linfield is as hard as it comes.
"The Blues have been the best team over the last three years and have been the best footballing side about and that's why they have been as dominant. They seem able to roll the players off the conveyor belt from their youth teams and never chop and change too much and stay consistent with their team selection.
"Linfield carry themselves very well, they are good ambassadors for our league and they won't fear us coming up the road.
"Our record away from home to Linfield isn't great and we'll go in as underdogs and give it our best and see where it takes us."
Elsewhere in the opening round of fixtures, Glentoran Women host newly-promoted Comber Rec Ladies who will be making their debut in the top flight.
The County Down side were established in 2012 and have climbed three divisions since their founding.
Their trip to east Belfast will be a difficult one as Glentoran finished runners-up last year and won the Irish Cup.
The Glens have strengthened by signing Northern Ireland goalkeeper Emma Higgins.
The other fixture of the evening will see Crusaders Strikers host Derry City, who have dropped the 'Ladies' from their name.
Last season, Crusaders finished in fourth position while Derry City ended up sixth in the final standings.