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Julie Ferguson has admitted her delight at winning the Thompson's Scottish Women's Premier League title after a hectic end to the season.
The Scottish international midfielder played a major part as Hibernian recaptured the Championship from Glasgow City and she told Women's Soccer Scene that her team had shown great character during the closing stages.
"We lost in two Cup semi finals but we stayed focused and kept going," says Julie. "We then beat Kilmarnock, and that was a big result."
Hibs then went on to play rivals Glasgow City in a title showdown, which ended in a 3-3 draw. "We were quite comfortable until the last ten minutes when nerves set in," she adds. "They scored twice, which made it nerve wracking and we were glad when the final whistle went as a draw suited us more.
"Glasgow are my old team so that made it better!" she smiles. "When we beat them 5-1 in November, it was a telling game - they beat us in both cups but we had the upper hand in the league. We have a healthy rivalry and our games are competitive, we pushed each other all the way.
"It was really good to win the league after the disappointment of missing out last year, but to be honest it was a bit closer than we wanted."
The title was finally secured on the last day, at the beginning of June after an intense number of games. "I've never known anything like it," Julie admits. "We've always had rushes at the end of the season but, with the weather and internationals, the games came thick and fast. We actually played three games in five days near the end and the squad was stretched to the limit.
"Our central defenders Stacey Cook and Shelley Kerr both suffered injuries and, at one stage, we only had ten fit players for one game but we battled through."
Whilst the likes of Debbie McWhinnie and Suzanne Malone have taken most of the headlines as the leading scorers, Julie is quick to point out that other players should not be forgotten. "Kirsty McBride and Joelle Murray are two players who have contributed greatly and perhaps don't get enough of the credit they deserve," she says. "Our goalkeeper Jenna McCandlish has played most of the season with a hip injury but has done very well.
"To bring back Pauline Hamill (from Doncaster Rovers Belles) after Christmas was a big bonus for us. She brought the experience that our strikers didn't have - everyone was happy when she came back."
Winning the title also means that Hibernian are back in the UEFA Women's Cup. "Playing in Europe is a huge thing for us," admits Julie. "Two years ago, we came within one point of going through from our group and we want to become the first Scottish team to go into the next phase.
"We're not just going there to participate, we'll be 100% focused and want to show we are the best in Scotland. Every female footballer wants to play at the highest level she can, hopefully we'll get a good draw as we want to play the best teams."
On the international front, Julie is very optimistic about the future of the Scotland team which has moved up to a record high in the FIFA World Rankings - 27th place. "Things have gone pretty well this season," she says. "We are still going through a transition under Anna Signeul, who has brought in fresh ideas and likes to concentrate on the players individually and improving them.
"We picked up two good wins against Ireland - it wasn't quite so good against Russia but we are going in the right direction and have the best people to push us forward."
Photo - Richard Payne
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