Sam Griffiths is in confident mood ahead of Derby County Women’s opening fixture of the 2022/23 season on Sunday afternoon.
Griffiths’ side take on Burnley at Mickleover FC, kicking off at 2pm, and go into the season with a younger looking squad after the retirements of two of last season’s stars, top scorer Ellie Gilliatt and player of the year Sherrie McCue.
And Griffiths is hoping that the surge in interest in women’s football following the recent Lionesses’ European Championship success and the feelgood factor being back at Pride Park Stadium under the ownership of Clowes Developments (UK) Ltd will spur her team on.
She said: “The girls are ready and chomping at the bit. ’Id like to think we can replicate what we have done in previous seasons, albeit with a different looking squad to last year. The dressing room isn’t as experienced, but that doesn’t mean to say that we lower our standards or lower our expectations. We’ve always gone into every game wanting to win it and this will be no different.”
Griffiths is, however, aware that without some of the senior players who were in last year’s dressing room, the squad has a much younger feel to it. And she has compared it to the situation the men’s team found itself in 12 months ago, with players being promoted from the development squad and making the step up to the National League Northern Premier Division for the first time.
“We've got some young players who are learning what senior football is like,” she said. “We have to first and foremost make sure we're tight, solid and secure. We’ve also got some really exciting players so I’m looking forward to seeing them get on the front foot and control the game when we’re in possession.
“These players will run and run and run – the energy they bring has been amazing to watch, and the hunger and desire to succeed within the group is there for all to see - in some ways it’s brought a freshness to the management team.”
Derby County Women finished runners up in the division last season but know that there is stiff competition again from the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who finished top but lost out on promotion to the Championship in the play off final defeat to Southern Division Southampton, Nottingham Forest and West Bromwich Albion.
Sunday’s opponents Burnley finished fourth last season and rounded off pre-season with an impressive 2-0 win over Newcastle United and now have a full time manager in place. It could be an early return to Derby for Ellie May, who left Ewe Rams for the Clarets in the summer, while fans will look to last season’s young player of the year, Amy Sims, to drive the team forward. The experience of Derby’s longest serving player, Hannah Ward, will be vital on and off the pitch.
Griffiths said there is a ‘real, real opportunity’ for the women’s game to move forward following England’s summer success and hopes it will help more people take an interest in Derby’s women’s setup.
She said: “I think as a whole, the European Championships win was an absolute game changer. There's a real buzz around the female game, which we hope will lead to more funds, bigger crowds, better atmosphere. And that'll be nice for the players to experience.”