After a year which saw no competitive action for Scotland’s women’s teams, the announcement of a full league and cup programme for the upcoming summer brings both relief and opportunity as each looks to add to the impressive growth of the domestic game over the last few years. The first round of Women’s Premier League matches pits four of the five teams which finished 2019 with near identical records against each other – McCrea FS West of Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway, and George Watson’s College and Royal High Corstorphine. The fifth, Carlton, makes the short journey to Edinburgh rivals Watsonians.
But the most mouth-watering contest is reserved for week two, as Scottish Cup holders Carlton host reigning Premier League champions Edinburgh South/Stewart’s Melville. For ES player-coach Katie McGill, the title-holders’ opening match adds a further edge of excitement to what is already the most keenly anticipated of seasons.
“I did open the fixture list and think, ah, we’ve got Carlton first in the league and then in the cup!” she laughed. “But it gives us a really good chance to set our standards and hit the ground running. It’s always a great game against them.
“There’s definitely a little bit more pre-season excitement about this year,” the Scotland international continued. “Having had such slim pickings last year in such totally uncontrollable circumstances, we’ve seen a real uptake in attendance and in new members, partly because of the growth in the game that’s been happening for a few years and partly because people just want to get out and play some sport after the year we’ve had.
“And so training has been pretty good so far. We’re really fortunate in terms of the space and the coaches we have, which has meant that we’ve been able to split the girls into bubbles relating to what they want to work on. They’ve managed to get some good skill development under their belts, so that’s been really useful.”
Similar development saw ES/SM to successive league titles in 2018 and ’19, and as the team bids for an unprecedented hat-trick in only its fourth year of competition, Katie is looking forward to seeing how both the current and newest batch of talent rises to the occasion.
“It’s a really exciting team,” she enthused. “There are so many young girls who have matured and developed with every year. [2019 Women’s Premier Player of the Year] Catherine Holland has really come into her own over the last couple of seasons, and hopefully we’ll see that develop further in her leadership role as captain.
“Emma Phipps is one to look out for as well, a little pocket rocket of an all-rounder, and then at the very young end we’ve got Izzy Armstrong. She’s only ten, but I’m sure she’ll feature in some of the Premier League fixtures for us.
“You’ll certainly spot her because she’s non-stop in the field!”
While ES/SM looks to consolidate its impressive recent record, other clubs are at the very beginning of their stories. The most eye-catching name in the draw for the quarter-finals of the Beyond Boundaries Women’s Scottish Cup is that of Grange, who are fielding a women’s side for the first time since the pioneering days of Linda Spence ended in the early 2000s. As Director of Cricket John Blain explained, the move is the culmination of a long-held ambition.
“It means a lot to a lot of people, and to me personally,” he said. “This is my sixth year at The Grange, and [bringing women’s cricket back to the club] has always been an objective of mine. With the prominence of women’s sport and the backing that Cricket Scotland has given to women’s cricket, it was always something that was in our mind to do.
“We have a lot of girls who come to our junior section, and it’s about trying to hold on to that engagement long enough so they can progress into a women’s team,” he went on. “It’s been a four-year process, to get the kids who come along to the under-10s and under-12s into women’s cricket, and along with that there have been several other girls who have been attracted to the club. [Scotland ‘A’ cap] Niamh Robertson-Jack has joined us full-time this year, and then we have Catherine Edwards, who’s always been in our Academy, and [fellow Scotland Under-17] Molly Paton, who came from Loretto School.
“We’ve got a strong link with Loretto through Dave Pierce, who does a lot of good stuff in women’s cricket at the school, and with Cargilfield School, who have a lot of good young cricketers who have historically migrated towards Grange as well, so we’ve got really good feeders into the club now.
“It’s all coming together nicely,” he added, “we’ve got a good spine of a team. I don’t feel we have quite enough to commit to the league as yet – that’s stage two – but if we can get a few friendly matches in and around the Scottish Cup, that’ll be good enough for us this year.
“When it comes to the cup, it’s not really about winning and losing. It’s more about being there and presenting the concept that there is women’s cricket at the club.
“I’m just delighted that the girls have the opportunity to be a team, and to call it their own.”