“You never tire of winning titles, and the older you get, the more you appreciate them.”
If anyone knows how to win trophies, it’s Glentoran legend Kelly Bailie, who, at 41, helped the East Belfast side win back-to-back women’s championships in her 25th season at the club .
“I don’t take anything for granted. Every day I can play football, I get lucky,” said Bailie, who won more than 30 trophies during her tenure with the club.
“It’s never taken for granted, and the girls got involved and they deserved it.
“There is a philosophy around the club. It was built around hard work and the drive to get it right.”
It is fitting that the three scorers in the victory over Cliftonville which won the title sum up the configuration of the Glens. Northern Ireland internationals Lauren Wade and Caragh Hamilton combined for the first, club legend Bailie scored the second and much-loved youngster Kerry Beattie scored her 23rd goal of the season to ensure the league stays in east Belfast.
“What you see on the pitch is fantastic, and the football we’ve played has been brilliant, but the work behind the scenes is absolutely ridiculous,” said manager Stephen Murray.
“It has been great working with the girls, their attitudes are fantastic – they are just winners. They know their role and what it takes to get the team to cross the line.”
With his award-winning career and years of international experience, Bailie’s influence cannot be underestimated in helping Glentoran’s talented mix of players.
“She is an absolute legend, not only in our club but also in women’s football in Northern Ireland,” said Glens captain Jessica Foy.
“Any young girl who plays football has only to admire Kelly and it is an absolute privilege to play alongside her.”
Bailie, while too modest to admit, has played a role not only in the current campaign but also in growing this team into title challengers. There is an argument that a booth, statue, or form of recognition should be returned to the Legendary Defender when the oval is redeveloped.
She is one of the club’s three pillars to which Glentoran can attribute her recent success. Immediately after winning the title, thoughts turned to the late Maura Muldoon and manager Billy Clarke, who are struggling with poor health.
Muldoon passed away in September and was a pioneer not only for Glentoran but also for women’s football in Northern Ireland. Bailie said “this one is extra-special” in her memory of her friend.
“Before she left us, that was one of the things she wanted, so being able to do that is very special,” Bailie said.
“She was definitely in the back of my mind. She was an inspiration to me, so giving something back is amazing.”
Murray has taken Clarke’s place this season and said the Glentoran man “deserves all the credit” for the club’s success.
“Bringing in a lot of these top players, like Lauren Wade or Chloe McCarron, if they don’t come, Glentoran won’t be as successful as they are. Billy has a lot to do with it.”
“When we lift the trophy, it will really be for Billy,” added Foy.
“Billy has been there over the years, really pushing us forward. The work he has done behind the scenes is amazing.”
The reds are growing
While there has been success for Glentoran, it was hard not to feel for Cliftonville after a titanic title battle throughout the season.
Their progress throughout the season has been astounding, and while it’s an old cliché to say “this is just the beginning”, to the Reds it really does feel like that. You have the leadership of Megan Moran, one stone in the back, plus the international quality of Marissa Callaghan, Kirsty McGuinness and Louise McDaniel.
Then you have a whole series of young players, such as Toni-Leigh Finnegan and Caitlin McGuinness, both already senior internationals. Among the academy’s graduates and one of many to watch is midfielder Fi Morgan, who has garnered attention several times this season.
You see it in leagues around the world when a team bounces off a disappointment to come back stronger. The Reds squad have a good mix and with the momentum this season has to offer, there is no doubt that Cliftonville will continue to rise to the challenge.
The Crusaders Strikers maintained their solid team position at a lonely third place and have two eagerly awaited cup finals in another solid season, while Sion Swifts had a Jekyll and Hyde campaign as they battled for consistency in fourth.
From title challengers to wrestlers – it was an odd year for Linfield as they were in fifth place thanks to a combination of transition, injuries to key players and a young team, while for Derry City, there have been signs of progress but they are still well relegated to the back of the pack.
Without relegation, the Candystripes have had a worry-free year, but next season the league will expand to eight teams as Lisburn Ladies and Mid-Ulster join the high profile party.
As teams have seen in the past, entering the Women’s Premiership can be difficult, but both newly promoted teams have the potential to provide a solid foundation for extending their stay for more than a year.