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Swoop for McGuinness sisters is 'major' for Sion Swifts ahead of another tight title race, says boss

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Former Linfield captain Kirsty McGuinness, who has joined Sion Swifts.

Former Linfield captain Kirsty McGuinness, who has joined Sion Swifts.

Picture by Brian Little/PressEye

Former Linfield captain Kirsty McGuinness, who has joined Sion Swifts.

Sion Swifts manager Tony McGinley has admitted even he was surprised to net the double-signing that has sent shock waves through the Danske Bank Women's Premiership.

Sion's swoop for Linfield Ladies' international duo Caitlin and Kirsty McGuinness stunned the women's game just days before the kick-off of the new campaign.

They will make their debuts in Wednesday's season-opening derby away to Derry City Women and McGinley, who saw the sister's combined total of 46 goals last season take the title for the Blues on goal difference - NIFL have withdrawn the prospect of that happening again and the title will be decided by a play-off if two teams are tied on points - is still getting his head round the fact that he will be writing their names on the team sheet.

"As a club, and personally, I am delighted to get the two girls on board," said McGinley.

"It all happened very quickly. I got an inkling that the two girls were keen to leave Linfield and go elsewhere and it goes without saying that when two girls of that quality are on the market I asked the question.

"Initially there were a few things that made it less than ideal for them and I left it at that. I thought it was dead in the water.

"Then I took a call two days later and was told that the girls would be interested in sitting down with me. That's all you ask for when you are looking to sign players and then it's up to me to sell the club to them.

"I had a nine-hour round trip to meet with Caitlin, Kirsty and their family and I think they appreciated that effort.

"The next day they called to say that they wanted to come on board and it's undoubtedly a major signing for us.

"You can't get much closer than losing the league on goal difference over 20 games. We lost one game last season, to Linfield, and lost the league ultimately on goal difference.

"The nature of the game that we're in is that there is a small pool of players and if someone comes available you go for it.

"Linfield have lost them, we've added them, but that's all we've done. Will it be enough? Time will tell."

Aside from losing the McGuinness sisters Linfield manager Phil Lewis is also trying to piece together a title-challenging squad without a number of other internationals.

Goalkeeper Lauren Perry and defender Abbie Magee are now at Forfar Farmington and Blackburn Rovers while Louise McDaniel, who also made the move to Rovers last year, has now joined Heart of Midlothian. Kelsie Burrows returned after she signed for Blackburn, but Chloe McCarron now looks to be on her way.

"We're disappointed to lose them. Kirsty in particular has been a big impact player for us for numerous years and Caitlin has burst through in the last 18 months and is improving well. We've lost others too so it's going to be a bit of a transition for us," said Lewis.

"We know the expectation that there is at Linfield, we've won four in-a-row and we'll be looking to make that five, but we also know that as Linfield we're always there to be shot at."

With numerous changes at both of last season's top two the title race could well be wide open, giving Glentoran - who were in contention until late last season - an opportunity to wrestle the league away from their Big Two rivals, who they face in the second round of matches on Wednesday week.

If they are to claim the prize for the first time since 2014, the Glens must manage without Yasmin White, Vicky Carleton, Jessie Davis, Regan Lehman and Demi Vance, but experienced Kelly Baillie will continue playing past her 40th birthday.

North-Belfast rivals Cliftonville Ladies and Crusaders Strikers will both have a youthful feel about their squads, with both having lost experience in Billie Simpson and Nadine Murphy respectively.

Not to be outdone by their north-west rivals, Derry City too have signed a pair of sisters in Eilish and Megan Havlin. They come on-board along with Tara O'Connor and goalkeeper Claire Friel in another youthful squad that will lean heavily on the experience of captain Shannon Dunne and Rosie Cunningham.

OPENING FIXTURES (Wednesday August 26): Cliftonville Ladies v Glentoran Women, Derry City Women v Sion Swifts Ladies, Linfield Ladies v Crusaders Strikers.

Belfast Telegraph