By: Hibernian Media on 28 Jul, 2020 09:00
With some level of normality returning to the country and a return to football imminent, we sat down with Dean Gibson, head coach of Hibernian Women, to chat through his experience over the past few months, new signings, changes to the calendar and getting back to training.
Follow @hibernianwomen on Twitter to keep up with their return to football.
How have you personally found the current situation that we find ourselves in?
Personally, I found it difficult at the start. When you’re involved in sport, any kind of sport, kids football through to senior football, and you’re an active person, it’s quite hard to spend the majority of your time in a house.
Like anything else, you get into a habit and get used to it. You start trying to find hobbies around the house and doing wee things. It was definitely challenging at the start but for me, it was something I got used to and now I’m into the habit.
So when the time comes to go back to work and get moving again, I’ll get back into that habit.
Have you been working in the background to make sure things are all set up for when we return?
At the start, we were furloughed so it was pretty difficult but when we started to come off of that I’ve been speaking to Stewart McGuire weekly, or daily at times, just trying to make sure we’re getting all the right protocols in place for a safe return as quickly as possible. We didn’t just jump straight in, we’ve been patient.
My frustration as a coach, frustration for all the players, is that we’re not all doing what we love doing. But it’s been the right thing and the club have been working hard behind the scenes to make it happen.
It’s not just sorting everything out for a return is it, you’ve been busy in the transfer market, too?
Yeah, we managed to bring Charlotte Potts in from Sunderland which I think is a big addition for us. It’s a different signing than I’ve brought in previously. Sophie and Hannah are a bit younger, [Charlotte] is still a young player, only 25, she could have 10, 12 years left of her career playing football at a decent level but she’s a player coming in with experience, a player that’s ready to go in and compete for a starting jersey in the Hibernian first team.
It’s a big opportunity for Charlotte but it’s also a big opportunity for us. I was delighted to get Charlotte signed and over the line.
Was she a player that you’ve had your eye on for a while?
I knew of her and I kept a close eye on the situation down south with what was going on with Sunderland - they’ve been hard done by but that’s football and sometimes you jump on situations and we done that. We knew they’d won the league but weren’t getting promoted so we thought, with Charlotte’s age, it might be a good opportunity for us to get her.
She wants to progress her career. She’s now going to be playing in the top league in Scotland and she’s got an opportunity to constantly be playing against full time teams, full time players, national players.
Her own aspirations are maybe to play in the Women’s Super League or try and get into the England national team set-up. She feels she’ll get a better opportunity to do that by playing for Hibernian.
Was it a signing to strengthen the squad in a slightly different way?
Charlotte fills a hole that we need in certain games. We’re a very technical side with good, young, technical players. Charlotte will bring a more physical aspect of the game. She’ll be there to marshal our midfield and be an enforcer.
She’s definitely got something that we don’t have and there’ll be certain games where it’s needed and it’ll be a welcome addition to the starting eleven.
How disappointed were you to see the campaign get put on hold so soon into your tenure?
We were just in the door, we were only really in for a month, we played one competitive game and that was it. It was a disappointing time but at the same time it gave us time to reflect. We were sort of rushed in terms of getting friendlies organised and getting the team prepared for the opening game so it gave us that chance to say, ‘We now know the team, we know their strengths and weaknesses and we’ve got a wee break to see where we need to improve.’
It had its pros and cons, obviously the cons massively outweighed the pros, but I always try to take the positives out of a negative situation. For me, it gave myself and the other coaches that bit of time to step back from it after a month heavily involved and say, ‘What can we do moving forward?’
I just wish it wasn’t as long as it’s been but that break might, in the long term, not be a bad thing.
What are your main reflections from the first couple of months involved?
The main one is that we don’t need to change. I think there’s certain things we need to improve but we don’t need to change. We showed that in the first game against Spartans, we stuck to the same formation the girls are used to playing.
I never came into a job in which the manager had been let go for poor performances; I came into a job and a team that has been highly successful for years. It’s important that we try to keep the continuity as much as we can and I always think if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
There are aspects that we want to improve, with the Charlotte signing showing that - a bit more aggression within the squad. It’s not massive changes, just slight things like how we can improve training, the way we’re coaching the team, can we get messages across clearer.
The biggest and most positive thing is that there wasn’t much needing changed.
How have you, your fellow coaches and the rest of the backroom staff managed to keep in contact with the players?
It’s been difficult because myself and the players have been furloughed. There’s been occasional texts but nothing really football related. The truth is that furlough is new to most people and we weren’t sure what you’re allowed or not allowed to do so you don’t want to put people at risk. We’ve tried to stick to it as much as we can which is very little.
Catriona, the club’s chaplain, has been a godsend. She’s been having occasional Zoom meetings, going over certain things like mental health awareness. It’s not like we’ve neglected the players, they’ve had regular contact with the club and we’ve made sure their wellbeing has been alright but the football side of things has been put right to the back.
In Scotland, we’re seeing the men’s game getting prepared for a return at the beginning of August, with a return to the women’s game hopefully following soon after. How have yourself, the coaches and the players been preparing for that return?
You’re seeing teams starting to return to training now, within our league and the leagues below us as well, we’re not far away - I think we’ll be back next week (interview recorded on July 21).
We’ve managed to secure a facility. We fully appreciate the lockdown and the restrictions at HTC at the minute and we’ve got to accept that. Getting an enclosed facility was important to get a safe return to training.
By next week we should be back training and have the players together as a squad again.
When training does start back up, will it just be like starting pre-season again?
It’s a new season so we’re starting again. The players have had a longer break than they usually would so what we’ve hoped to see is a level of professionalism from them, keeping themselves ticking over, keeping their fitness levels high. I know the group now and I know that will be the case. I’ve got no concerns over the players we’ve got that they’ll all be fit.
We’ll be doing fitness testing quite early on to make sure of that. However, if they’ve not been keeping themselves fit they’ll have a period so when we kick off that first game we’ll be ready to go. The ones that have been looking after themselves will be a lot closer to that starting eleven than the ones who haven’t.
Can you give us any details surrounding that first game back?
Most of the reports that I’ve heard, just through the media, is that October is going to be the kick-off date. Although it’ll be classed as an August-May season, we’re technically delaying the season for two months.
I think the best thing for the women’s game in this country is to be going August-May now. What we tried and tested before was fine but with European competitions and the national team, I think we need to be running that way. I’ve been told October and that’s a massive benefit for the women’s game.
Again, taking the positives out of a negative, would that have been possible without lockdown? It would have been difficult to do. If that’s the route we’re going down, the women’s game will definitely benefit in the long term.
What do you think the main positive of going to a winter season would be?
One, falling in line with UEFA competitions is important. If you look at Glasgow City’s situation, they would have played maybe two or three competitive games in 100 days before taking on Wolfsburg in the quarter-final which isn’t enough.
The mental health of players will also be a benefit of switching to a winter season. Having a break in the summer is important, allowing the players to go away with their friends and family without worrying about missing games.
With the summer season, it was harder for the players to take a proper break. Not having to choose between family and football will be important for the players and a welcome addition to their routine going forward.
We saw just before the start of the season, Joelle Murray was announced as the club’s first contracted player. Are you able to give us any details surrounding other players’ being contracted?
Joelle was obviously the first but we followed that up with 10 other players. We’ve now got 11 players on contracts, which is about 50% of our squad. It’s massive for where we’re trying to go as a club.
Even last season we didn’t have any players on contracts, so to go from zero to half is huge. That’s a massive credit to the Board and Stewart McGuire - the work that he does is really important. It’s those people that deserve all the praise for getting that in place. It’s definitely a positive which is only going to go from strength to strength.
How are yourself, the coaches and the players feeling about the return to football?
Excited. We’ve got a meeting with the players to give them all the details about training. Everyone’s excited. It’s been a long time now.
The players are athletes, sportspeople, they just want to be active and moving, especially in a team environment. When that’s something you’ve been involved in for so long, it’s hard to let that go.
The players have ‘lost’ half a year of their career so they’ll be eager to just be moving again and I’m sure my excitement will be shared among the squad.
Do you have any major learnings coming out of the football lockdown which you can share?
Don’t take it for granted any more. Whether it’s watching a game or going to a training session. Every single coach or player at some point in a season will have struggled to get motivated for a session but I’ll never feel like that again.
It’s taught me to appreciate what you do have and how privileged we are to actually be doing what we’re doing. Going forward, I’ll never moan about the rain again and just appreciate the environment we’re in.
Do you have a message for the Hibernian Women fans?
Thanks for your patience. I know they’re eager for more information to come out. At times there’s not a lot of information to put out. Hopefully as we get closer to a restart, there’ll be more to come out as the build-up to the season starts.
Hopefully we can get fans in by that point, but if not, they will be kept well up-to-date via social media with what’s going on, how the team’s progressing. We can’t wait to see them back at games supporting us.
That first game against Spartans, I thought the crowd was good, the atmosphere within the ground was good and we were keen to build on that. The way we won the game, it was kind of a cup final because if you win a game 1-0 in stoppage time you get a certain buzz from that. Everyone was so excited for the next game to come about.
We’ve lost that but hopefully they’ve still got their eagerness to come and we’d be grateful if they do.
Follow @hibernianwomen on Twitter to keep up with their return to football.