20 09 21 HI Bv HEA Press06

Dean Gibson - The Journey So Far

January 21st will mark two years since Dean Gibson was appointed as the Manager of Hibernian Women Football Club. Unfortunately, after only a few months in charge, the world was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic with football – and much of the world – coming to a standstill.

“The first year was probably the most challenging I think I will ever have in this career. Nobody could foresee the problems that arose, not for Hibs Women, but the world. When I first came in, we played one game and then COVID shut us down for a long period. That made it extremely challenging on top of the already challenging job it was going to be that first year at Hibs.”

Dean Gibson was appointed as Hibernian Women's manager on January 21st 2020

After a difficult first season with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gibson believes his second year in charge has been a lot more promising.

“Second year has been a lot more promising; you have seen the players we have brought in. We have signed three from America (Alexa Coyle, Gabby English, and Toni Malone) and we have signed Michaela McAlonie.

“Michaela has played in the league for a long time, Gabby is an experienced goalkeeper and we signed her as a professional. Alexa has come in and she is more on the youthful side, so we have signed a good mix of youth and experience.”

Michaela McAlonie left Spartans last summer to join Hibernian Women

During his time in charge, Gibson believes the team have made great progress with some players winning individual accolades as well as several others receiving international call-ups.

“I think I still have my Under-23s and academy coach head on at times because development is still a massive thing to me.

“Eilidh Adams has been called up to the Scotland Under-19s and scored for the Under-19s as well. Rachael Boyle has gotten another six caps, Amy Muir made her debut for Scotland in the last two years and Leah Eddie has made her debut for Scotland in the last two years.

"Colette Cavanagh won the Player of the Month award for September and Eilidh Adams won the Young Player of the Year award last season.

“The recognition that we are getting out with the club i.e., international call ups, Player of the Year awards, and Player of the Month awards shows that the work that we are doing is positive.”

What we set out to do this season was score more goals and concede fewer, and I think we have done both.

Dean Gibson

This season, Hibs Women had an excellent run in the League Cup and reached the semi-finals, scoring 27 goals, conceding four, and keeping three clean sheets in the process.

“We felt that it sent a bit of a message out that we were here to do better this year. Doing better does not always mean your position in the league improves but what improves is your quality of performance within games and I think we did that. What we set out to do this season was score more goals and concede fewer, and I think we have done both. I think as a group, we are a lot more competitive and that started from the League Cup campaign.”

As well as the three clean sheets in the League Cup, Gibson’s side have kept a further seven clean sheets in the league this season so far.

“I have been really pleased (with the clean sheets). That came in last season, it was something that we wanted to improve on as we came into the start of 2021. We did not get moving until around April that season and we got off to the worst possible start. After that, we kicked on and showed a real side to us and we are a very hard team to beat. In 2021, I could be wrong with the exact figures, but I think it was around 15 clean sheets which work out as one in two over 30 games.

“It gives us a real chance to win games. What we need to keep doing though is scoring goals at the top end of the pitch because if Gabby, Emily, and the back four are keeping clean sheets, we need to make sure the strikers are scoring goals. Clean sheets give us a platform to build on and something that we are proud of.”

Hibernian Women have kept 10 clean sheets so far this season

Earlier this season, Shannon McGregor made her return from injury after 20 months out, a moment that Gibson was delighted about.

“Shannon is someone that at such a young age has had two serious injuries. The second one must be soul-destroying because you know how long that recovery period is going to be. For her to attack that the way she did and get herself back on the pitch is phenomenal. Shannon is quite small in her physique, but she is such a strong girl and that shows you the amount of work that she puts in off the pitch in the gym to make sure she is in the best possible condition.

“It was never a doubt for us that she would be back on the pitch and to see her playing in a semi-final, to see her get Man of the Match at Tynecastle was massive at the end of the year for Shannon and us.

“All credit has to go to Shannon. She has done all the work to get herself back on the pitch and hopefully, she can have a strong second half to this season.”

Shannon McGregor made her return from injury this season after 20 months out

Already this season, Gibson’s side have secured two derby victories. The first came in front of a record-breaking 5,512 fans at Easter Road in a game that saw Hibs secure a 3-0 victory over Hearts.

“It was massive. I think what Hibs have always done in the women’s game is set standards and we set another one (at Easter Road). We might not be winning trophies right now, but we are still setting standards in other ways, and we are trying to push the game, drive the game, and drive our club to where we want it to be.

“It tested the water, we put something out to see the interest and the interest was incredibly good. To get five and a half thousand people there on the night was brilliant and it is an experience that if I stop coaching tomorrow, I would end it happy knowing that we have played at Easter Road in front of five and a half thousand in a derby, kept a clean sheet, and scored three goals. The night could not have gone much better for us, it was a perfect occasion.

“The more we can do these things the better. I think you have seen when you play, and you catch the fan’s imagination what that can achieve for the women’s game is huge. The more we do that the more revenue we will bring in. Not just through gate money but through sponsorships.

“It is something that we do not want to be a one-off, it has to be the start of something and hopefully it will be the start of a journey.”

Eilidh Adams scored in both of Hibs' victories over Hearts this season

The victory over Hearts at Easter Road was the first of two derby victories this season as Gibson’s side secured a 3-1 victory over Hearts at Tynecastle in their final game of 2021. Gibson believes that being able to play at Easter Road and Tynecastle made the derbies even more special.

“We played derbies in 2021 at Ainslie Park and The Oriam and they do feel like derbies because you look over and you see that maroon strip but when you play them at Easter Road and Tynecastle they feel like proper derbies. You feel a proper pressure put on you when you have got five and a half thousand fans at Easter Road behind you, and you do not want to let them down. When you have got three and half thousand Hearts fans behind you, you want nothing more than to go a few goals up and enjoy the moment. They are different experiences, but it is hard to describe the feeling. Those games certainly had more of an edge to them than they did the year before based on where they were played and the crowds that were there as well.

“What it also does is add more pressure onto the games, which is what the players want, the coaches want, and I am sure the fans want.

“We felt it at Easter Road when you have got five and a half thousand cheering you on, it makes a massive difference and that was the same for Hearts at Tynecastle when they had three and half thousand fans cheering them on, it certainly took them up another level. It adds to the occasion, and I think, it makes the games a lot better so hopefully, it is something both clubs can continue going forward.”

Unfortunately, Eilidh Adams was forced off through injury in Hibs’ victory over Hearts at Tynecastle. Thankfully, the injury was not as bad as first feared.

“When I first saw her going down, I feared the worst. She is not the type of player who goes down and stays down. When I saw her going down and in clear discomfort, I thought she had broken her ankle or something bad had happened.

“She won’t be back this month I don’t think. But hopefully, by the first game of February, we’ll get Eilidh back on the pitch. It was a grade 2 sprain and was not as bad as first feared. She is now walking without support which is good. We will start to up her recovery hopefully in the next week or two and then hopefully get her back on the pitch for the first game in February.”

Dean Gibson has discussed his hopes for the rest of the campaign, as well as looking ahead to the next season

Following an impressive start to the 2021/22 season, Gibson has outlined his plans for the remainder of the campaign, as well as keeping an eye on next season.

“We want to have a cup run. We were very proud of our league cup run and felt we were very unfortunate not to reach the cup final.

“For the league, we want to improve where we were last year. Can we finish higher than fourth? I think we can, and the players think we can. There is going to be a big push to go and do that now. It is certainly something that, with the quality of our group, we can do. If we don’t finish above fourth, then can we finish with more points, more goals scored, and fewer goals conceded?

“This is a big six months for me as a coach because we have started to rebuild the squad and are starting to hopefully retain the squad going into next season as well. It is trying to have full focus on the job at hand – which is this season – but also knowing that there is a long-term project.

“The first six months of the season I think are easy, the second six months are hard. That is where you play cup finals, you start to either win the league or not win the league, finish in the Champions League, or don’t finish in the Champions League. You also must have an eye on next season by trying to strengthen the squad. It is a big six months for the club, it is huge, but it is something we will challenge and take on. We are hopefully going into an exciting period for the club that we can really kick on and become a force in Scottish football again.”