Sheehan: Relieved and Delighted
Thursday, 3rd Jun 2021 20:05
Ipswich Town Women’s manager Joe Sheehan says he’s relieved and delighted following the Tractor Girls’ elevation into FA Women's National League Southern Premier Division, the third tier of women’s football, which was confirmed yesterday.
The 2020/21 FAWNL Division One South East (tier four) campaign was suspended in January due to the lockdown with the Town leading Hashtag United on goal difference with a 100 per cent record and without conceding a goal, having played only four matches, one fewer than the second-placed side.
The Blues had similarly been top of the league when the 2019/20 season was declared null and void due to the pandemic last March.
In March this year the FA announced that although no automatic promotion would be taking place due to the few games played, clubs could apply to move up a division based on set criteria.
The Blues’ application was subsequently approved by the FA with an announcement made yesterday afternoon.
“Amazing! It’s been an anxious couple of weeks, your mind in overdrive, ‘are we going up, are we not?’” Sheehan said at a press conference this afternoon, which can be viewed in full below.
“Ultimately I’m relieved and delighted. It’s been a long two years for us. We’re just really pleased now to get that bit of good news and we’re going to really look forward to pushing forward now and to competing in a new division with new teams, new experiences, hopefully with the crowd back. A nice way to end the season, for sure.”
Explaining the application process, he added: “Seventy-five was on-pitch, 55 per cent was our league over the last two years and the remaining 20 per cent was made up of League Cup performance, FA Cup performance, goals-for and our goal aggregate.
“The 25 per cent off the pitch was workforce, structure, facilities, admin, all sorts of off-field administration.
“So it was a big piece of work as well as lots of supporting documents and we thought we’d put a really strong piece together. We completed that and sent that off and it was successful.”
If the Blues hadn’t have gone up this summer then he would have expected players to depart in order to play at higher levels.
“The pros of going up, I think we’ve got a lot of players that would have looked to move on, and we would have supported them in that,” he reflected.
“We were quite lucky in some ways that so many decided to stay with us. They really believed in sticking at it.
“We do run a really good programme, our player development model is as good as it gets for young players in this country.
“We know we can keep players because we know what we can offer them, but I think some of them might have got a bit impatient, the competition isn’t as competitive and players would have looked to try and stretch themselves a little bit more and moved on.
“We should now keep everybody we want to keep, which is a massive plus for us.”
Sheehan says remaining in tier four would have hampered players’ development regardless of the work which goes on at Playford Road.
“We truly believe we’ve got one of if not the best development model in the country for girls 16 upwards,” he continued.
“And one things that we’ve been really good at and the club has been really incredible with is how we facilitate things for girls that are striving.
“We’ve got girls now that are training with boys. We’ve had one that’s been in with Adem [Atay] and with the U18s for four or five months, so we’re always looking at how we can stretch players. We’re going to incorporate a few different things moving forward as well.
“It would have been detrimental, but one thing we’ve really been good at is how we find a solution to ensure that these players are still going to be stretched throughout the week.
“We’ve trained with boys, we’ve played against boys and that’s stood us well, I think.
“But you’re right, we needed to compete higher because there’s only so much development you can do from Monday to Saturday, ultimately players want to compete for points.
“We’re pleased that we’re able now to step up and play in a higher division because ultimately, while we can provide something from Monday to Saturday for players to benefit from, they will be wanting to play against better teams in more competitive environments and that’s something that we’re now able to offer them.”
He says the move up a division will also be good for the Tractor Girls’ growing legion of fans: “The supporters will want to watch us play against new teams in a new division.
“The virus came at a really difficult time for us because we were starting to build a really, really strong supporter network, attendances were booming.
“We had the highest attendance for a league fixture not to be played at a men’s stadium, I still think that’s the case.
“We know we’re building a really good network of supporters and going up a division we’ll continue to build on that, which will be a massive positive for us as well.”
Sheehan is confident his side can compete in tier three: “I think we’re suited to the level. We were finding it difficult to play teams that knew our capability.
“There were three words we used quite a lot last year, we felt that the only things that could stop us were disruption, distraction and difference. Those things we tried to control ourselves because most teams would know what we were capable of.
“We shocked teams in the first year, in the second it was a case that if we could deal with any distractions, any disruptions and differences, then we would keep moving forward.
“I think we’re glad to see the back of that a little bit and we’re looking forward to playing teams which are closer to our level.
“And we will be better for it, playing teams that are going to be prepared to go toe-to-toe with us in some ways, which we like.
“We like that side of the game, we don’t want to play against teams that are scrapping for their lives, we want to play in really exciting, entertaining games.
“That’s when we’re at our best. Our cup run last year [when they became the first fourth tier side to reach the fifth round] showed that, the three or four teams we knocked out from the league above showed that.
“When we compete with teams that we feel we’re close to or better than, that want to compete with us, that’s when we’re at our best.
“We’re looking forward to playing everybody, we’re looking forward to testing ourselves and seeing where it takes us.”
He added: “I started to notice since the turn of the year that the players were probably lacking a little bit of stimulus. I think they’d probably got a little bit stale wondering whether this was ever going to get better.
“The stop-start games. One week we could won 10-0, the other we could lose by an absolutely freak result.
“The players needed new stimulus, they needed new competitions. I don’t think there’s anything our end we’re going to need to prepare them for.
“I just think they’re going to be so excited, they’re so ready now to make that next jump. They know we’ve competed with [those] teams.
“We tried to get some [friendly] games against teams in the league above, we played Portsmouth, we played Nottingham Forest, who both currently operate at tier three.
“Both of those games told us that we’re ready for this level and we can do really well at this level.
“Naturally, the players are going to be really excited. We’re all looking forward to it as staff, embracing new teams, a new challenge, to then try and kick on to get to the Championship.”
Might promotion to the Championship, which has been the Blues’ long-term aim, be possible in their first season? “I always thought that if we were to win the league on the pitch with the young group of players, that that momentum would shift on and ultimately you’ve got a group of young players who have proved they can win the league title.
“I thought we would go again off the back of that. It might be a little bit more difficult now we’ve not been able to experience that.
“But I still think we’ve got the quality to compete, to go again. There will be a couple of teams in our league that will be looking to move up.
“Like ourselves, Southampton have waited a couple of years to make this jump. They’re doing things very similar in some ways.
“We played them at the end of the season as well and we’re more than a match for them.
“So, if we can pick up some big results, find a bit of form and try and play as best we can, we’ll see where it takes us.
“I don’t think we’ll put an expectation on it to try and win the league like we have for the last couple of years, we’ll just try and play as best as we can every week and if we end up top after however many games, then so be it.”
Regarding potential new additions, Sheehan added: “We’ve identified some positions where we think we need to recruit. One thing that’s great about us and what we’re about is that we will never look to have a mass turnover of players.
“In the Super League and the Championship in the last couple of weeks there’s been a turnover of a lot of players, anything between eight and 12 players are turning over each year.
“I think what’s exciting about us is that we’re committing to players. We’re trying to invest at least three or four years in players to see how far we can take them and hopefully that continuity can help us long term.
“I don’t think we’ve ever brought in more that two at senior age group and I don’t think it’ll be any different this year.
“We’ve identified two or three that we really want to speak to in really important positions for us. That’s already in motion and hopefully we can get those over the line and that can help us going forwards.”
Mark Detmer, one of the Three Lions group which is part of the club’s new ownership, said recently that they’re “very, very supportive of the women’s team and any way that we can help support their efforts I think we’re all in on”.
Sheehan says he’s yet to speak to the US owners but is looking forward to doing so.
“I think they’re not over until August time, maybe September. Not had any communication with them yet,” he said.
“Was able to meet [new CEO] Mark Ashton the day before yesterday as part of the staff meeting but not personally but I’m sure all those things will start to take place over the next month or so and we’ll start to look at what the future will look like.
“We’re in a really exciting position, there’s a great foundation there for what we’ve built. It’s an opportunity to pick that up and take it wherever the club want to take it really.
“We’ve got all the foundations. We’ve got a huge fanbase for the level we’ve been playing at and it’s such an exciting opportunity to take that where it wants to go.
“Hopefully over the next couple of months [I can] meet the owners and find out what we can do, what’s needed and what can take us on.”
He added: “There’s been three or four years in which some really good work has been put in by so many people, so it’s a great opportunity.
“Promotion, new ownership and I’ll be looking forward to sitting down with them and finding out where we’re at, what we need and where we want to go with it.
“What’s our aim, what’s our vision and what we’ve got to do to crack on with that and see if we can get there.”
Photos: TWTD/Ross Halls
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