Hibs' Joelle Murray ready to put Bayern experience to full use

Joelle Murray describes her Champions League debut as one of the highlights of her time in football but, as Hibernian Ladies head into their second campaign, that night is also looked back on as valuable experience and a massive incentive.

Hibs Ladies captain Joelle Murray cant wait to test herself in the Champions League again. Picture: SNS.

“That was probably up there, if not the pinnacle of my career, walking out in front of about 3,000 fans at Easter Road, playing under the lights, against a top, top club like Bayern Munich. It was amazing and definitely spurs us on to get through this group and hopefully bring a team like that back to Easter Road again and hopefully we can get the same kind of support, if not even more.”

Last year they joined the competition at the round of 32 but this time they will have to negotiate a three-match group stage first, kicking off today against Swansea before facing Ukrainian side Kharkiv on Friday and then host team, Olimpia Cluj, of Romania, on Monday.

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“There are a number of challenges and the most obvious is that we have not actually been together as a squad since June,” said manager Chris Roberts. “It was for good reasons but it is tough for the club. Players like Joelle were away with Scotland at the Euros and about two days after they got home, our 19s went away to their Euros with Scotland. So, we won’t have one single session in preparation as a full squad.

“Aside from us going two months without a game, we are in a group with three league champions, who, between them, have only lost two games in the last season. Kharkiv, from Ukraine, were unbeaten, the Romanian team, Cluj, were unbeaten last season, and Swansea, who won the Welsh league, they only lost two games on their way to the title. So, no pressure!

“On top of that we will be playing in 30-odd degree heat in Romania so there are a lot of challenges but, I’m sure, when they look at our situation and see the number of games we have won – I think we’ve only lost one in the past six months – then hopefully they will be looking at us with the same concern.”

A side who have grown in stature and standing in the past couple of years, winning the last three trophies, in Scottish and League Cup action, and are currently sitting top of the league standings, threatening Glasgow City’s lengthy dominance.

The more progress they can make on the European stage, the more they believe those chances will be bolstered.

“The Bayern game was a learning curve for me 
personally and for the club in how to prepare for Champions League football because that was the first time we had been involved,” said the Hibs boss. “We are not going to play against a bigger team than that in this group stage so, for us, it will be more relaxed and even between the two Bayern games we learned a lot so we are better aware of what is needed. In domestic football, if you are compact then teams tend to give you the ball back but that wasn’t the case at European level. If you don’t go and win it back then you are not getting it back. We learned that lesson the hard way last time so we are prepared for that this time.

“Game experience and game intelligence is hard to come by, so from our point of view to have that extra level of experience going into a big game is huge. Two of our A squad internationalists won’t be available. Lizzie Arnot missed the Euros with a torn ACL and won’t be back until 2018, and Rachel McLauchlan, who was at the Euros and played against Portugal, she has ankle ligament damage and won’t travel with us. But, as a squad, I think it is the best I have managed at the club and we are really looking forward to it.”

Having been part of the Scotland squad, who took part in their first ever major finals, at the European Championships this summer, Murray says the national team’s breakthrough onto such as stage has given everyone increased confidence and an even greater desire to mix it with the elite on a more regular basis.

“Going away with the national team, whether the Euros or a friendly, you are guaranteed to be playing top teams and the best players in the world or Europe and being in that environment and gaining the experience of playing against those sorts of players, it does put you in a position to learn so to then head to Romania with Hibs on Champions League duty and again play top players, top clubs, I think that will stand us in good stead, even just being in the national team environment and being able to understand the level of professionalism needed.”