Head coach Shelley Kerr is anticipating further development for Stirling University FC this season, after it was announced the club has been invited to participate in the revamped Scottish Challenge Cup competition.
Stirling will be the only university taking part in this year’s campaign after a strong showing in last season’s Lowland League, and Kerr is eagerly anticipating the challenge ahead. She said:
“We’re getting an opportunity to test ourselves against higher quality opposition and, for any footballer or team, that’s exactly what you want. We get the chance to be in these challenging environments if we make it far enough in the Scottish Cup, but to be in this competition is great.”
The competition- won by Rangers in the 2015/16 season – has been radically overhauled by the Scottish Football Association. Now known as the IRN-BRU Cup, this season will see the introduction of Irish and Welsh teams, as well as Under-20 sides from the 12 Scottish Premiership clubs making their debuts in the competition. Far from being daunted by the opposition, however, Kerr is viewing the campaign as an opportunity to push on and develop the club further. She said:
“I think, as a club, we’ve always had that drive to develop. We want to play at the highest level we can. We had a successful season last year, which allowed us to be in this position, so we’re here on merit. Now is the chance to test ourselves and by playing teams from a higher level the better you become.”
Having just concluded her second season at the helm, Kerr is clearly enjoying her time at Stirling, and speaks of her sense of satisfaction as to how the football programme at the university is progressing.
“The recent introduction of an Under-20s side, the pathways we have in place, plus the fact we have six teams accessible to all is fantastic. For me, seeing the players develop is great, but seeing the person develop is just as important, so it’s a two-pronged attack really – it’s not just about the football, it’s also about the academic side of things
“Before I came to the programme here, I had this perception that it might have been easier for student footballers than perhaps it was for someone in full-time employment. It’s the exact opposite. The players have to carefully plan for the academic year, look at the times there might be problems with clashes with exams and assignments, yet they’re all one hundred per cent committed.”
With the first round of matches taking place on the first weekend in August, Kerr has just six weeks to prepare for what lies ahead. The former Scotland international is clear about the club’s aims for their inaugural Challenge Cup campaign, though.
“It’s about progressing and developing ourselves as a club first and foremost. We’re being realistic – we know it’s unlikely that we’ll win it, but it’s about measuring how far we’ve come and that’s something that, as a group, we’re really looking forward to.”