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Mick Mulhern was delighted to receive the Manager of Year Award and told Women's Soccer Scene that this capped a brilliant season for his Sunderland side.
"It's been fantastic, to win the league is hard enough as it is you're up against some good sides," he said. "We've been up there every time we have been in that league and to win for the third time is fantastic - and to get to the Cup Final and represent the Northern and Southern divisions, it gives everybody hope that they can do it."
Sunderland captured the Northern Division title but their Cup run ensured they had to do it the hard way, needing to win all of their last few games to overtake OOH Lincoln. "The pressure was on and even before the Final, we knew we had to win games," Mick recalls. "I suppose the girls started to switch their attention towards the Cup Final, and that's natural, but we got that out of the way and we knew what we had to do, to win the two games we had left and we had the strength of character to do that.
"I suppose Arsenal helped in a way because our attitude was, if you could play the best and do so well against the best, then surely we are good enough to beat what is in our league - and that is with no disrespect to anybody."
However the outstanding memory of the season was Sunderland's appearance in the F.A.Women's Cup Final and, although the day ended in defeat to Arsenal, Mick admits that he and his team are hungry for more. "The whole thing blended into one was a fantastic experience," he says, "it's left me with the feeling that I want to do it again. We're not going to win promotion next year and we know were not going to win the league or finish runners-up but there are two cups to play for and that's got to be our aim. If you were to say we'd finish eighth in the league and reach a cup final or fourth in the league and nothing, I would take the lower position and the Final as it was a great day."
Sunderland achieved their success this season with a young squad, the majority of which have been their own products and Mick has overseen a huge part of their development. "We've got a lot of good young players coming through from the Centre of Excellence," he reveals. "I've been involved with the Centre for ten years now, eight of which as director, so I have known which girls are going to push through from 8-10 years old. A lot of the girls are 16 now and have come through and this is the result of years of hard work not just one season."
There was a sad note to the Championship success with the news that goalkeeper Helen Alderson will be out for several months with a knee injury sustained in their penultimate match against Leicester City, and Mick admits that she will be missed during that time. "It's a major blow," he says. "You don't win the league with just a goalscorer, one of the most important players in a Championship winning team is the goalkeeper and they dont always get the praise.
"On the day in question, when she got injured at Leicester, she came out to deal with Remi (Allen) who was coming through, was a little late and caught her. Obviously I'm glad that Remi didnt get hurt but she got injured herself. Had Remi scored it would have been 3-2 and panic stations - Helen said she took one for the team and that's her attitude, she's as brave as a lion and hopefully shell be back sooner or later. But we have got a very good under-19 goalkeeper in Rachael Laws who will come in and deputise."
As for next season, Mick is taking a realistic view of their chances in the top flight and survival is set to be his main target. "I'm not going to make any rash predictions," he replies. "I've just lost my goalkeeper and we'll see who we can attract. Geographically, we are in a place in the world where it's hard to get players so we have to grow our own. Obviously the aim is to stay up, I don't believe in aiming for third from bottom because I don't think you ever quite get what you aim for."
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