The big nights out have gone for a burton and their preparation for matches is extremely intense.
Chris Wilder’s players, Rosa Neary explained last night, are not the only folk at Bramall Lane making sacrifices to achieve footballing success.
“There’s no drinking the night before a match and we’re really careful about what we do,” Neary, captain of Sheffield United Ladies team, said. “Everything has really stepped-up a notch in the last couple of years and we’re determined to keep going from strength to strength.”
Neary and her team mates will attempt to reap their benefits of their new approach when Leeds United visit Bramall Lane on Sunday. The match, which will see the winners reach the first round proper of the SSE Women’s FA Cup, is the side’s first outing at the stadium this season and arguably their highest profile fixture since being crowned East Midlands Premier League champions five months ago.
Neary cites United’s decision to officially adopt the Ladies, at the behest of co-owner Kevin McCabe, as the catalyst for their recent progress.
“Because we are under the club umbrella now, I think everybody feels the responsibility a lot more,” she said. “You know you are representing Sheffield United, you know people are looking at your results and when we see the men’s players at events, we want to be able to tell them that we’ve won as well.
“In the past, there used to be people who came along for training because they enjoyed it. They’d have a bit of a laugh whereas now, it’s much more serious. It’s really stepped-up a notch. Kevin McCabe asks for a text after every single match, he wants to know how we’ve got on, and there’s a regular piece in the programme. It rams it home and drives everybody on.”
Neary, has demonstrated her own commitment to the cause by overcoming a catalogue of serious injuries. The defender, a lifelong United supporter, broke a hip playing for the club as a youngster before seeing a scholarship at Bridgeport University, Connecticut, interrupted by back surgery. However, speaking ahead of this weekend’s fixture, Neary revealed why spending time in the States meant she was prepared for demands of Premier League Midlands Division football.
“We used to have a coach over there, a Swedish guy, who was very strict,” Neary continued. “Especially when it came to fitness. If you were even a minute late for a session, he made you sit in front of everyone else and watch them get put through the mill, do some really serious stuff.”
United Ladies have made significant strides both on and off the pitch in recent seasons, having recently been granted a licence to host a regional training centre for elite level girls by the Football Association.
“A few years back, there were fears we might have to fold,” Neary admitted. “We were struggling to get enough players.
“When we held the trials this summer, there were so many people turning up, the difference was really apparent. That’s something else I think you can put down to the club’s commitment to us because of the greater exposure and prestige it brings. Seriously, it’s made a huge difference.”
Neary hopes United Ladies can go someway towards repaying that by attracting a sizeable crowd to this weekend’s fixture.
“Just come and watch us if you can,” she said. “That’s my message to people. We’re part of Sheffield United Football Club, we are determined to do our best for it and it would be great if we could give a little bit back.”
n Sheffield United Ladies versus Leeds United Ladies, Sunday 8 October (noon kick-off). Admission via the Hualing (South) Stand turnstiles is priced £3 adults and £2 concessions.