Classy Courtney steals spotlight
BELLES STAR EYES TOP TIER
WHEN Fran Kirby swapped Reading for Chelsea in July, it was a groundbreaking moment for women’s football – but it also rocked Courtney Sweetman-Kirk’s world.
Over the past season and a half, Kirby had lit up the second tier of the Women’s Super League, scoring an astonishing 35 goals in 22 games for the Royals.
She was the only player from WSL 2 who travelled with England to the World Cup and her performances had Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea – who eventually stumped up a British record fee – clambering for the 22-year-old’s services.
Yet her move to the FA Cup winners left a void to fill for the rest of the league and Doncaster Rovers Belles striker SweetmanKirk has gone about making her contribution.
Ten goals in 13 games last season was hardly a shoddy return, but her campaign was disrupted by a mid-season move from Notts County.
This term, she has blown away the rest and, with a promotion battle to focus her mind, she’s keen to add to her 14 goals and fire the Belles to the top tier.
“I’ve been very happy since joining Donny, but the big thing for me has been having a full preseason behind me,” said Sweetman-Kirk, who moved to Yorkshire in June 2014.
“I joined midway through the season and didn’t have that match sharpness I’ve had this time round. I was pleased with my return in 2014, but having played really well in the friendlies building up to this season it has made a big difference. You can see that in the goals return.
“I enjoyed my time at Notts County, but it was time to move on. I wasn’t getting enough game time. I held my own, but I’m confident I have the ability to make it in WSL 1 and I’m up for the challenge.
“Fran Kirby has proved it and I was ecstatic for her when she got the move to Chelsea.That serves as a bit of an inspiration to everyone in WSL 2.
“It’s also testament to the fact the gap is closing between the leagues, and I believe it will continue to do so.”
With two promotion spots up for grabs, it would require a major slip-up from the Belles or Reading – or a remarkable run of form from third-placed Yeovil Town – to usurp the current pacesetters.
Despite an eight-point cushion over the Glovers, Sweetman-Kirk refuses to take anything for granted, but the former Leicester and Coventry City forward doesn’t mind planning ahead.
“There’s a great mix between the young girls and the experienced players we’ve got, but it’s always good to add to it and, if we do go up, we’ll be looking to do that,” she added.“We need to see the job through now.
“I say it time and time again, but I wouldn’t be in this position without my team-mates. It’s not all about one player, it’s not even about the starting XI, it’s about the entire squad and we’ve shown we have great strength in depth.”
Sweetman-Kirk, who has also appeared for England at Under23 level and won gold with Team GB in the 2013 World University Games, works as a sport development officer at Warwickshire College.
And she was grinning from ear to ear when she clocked in this week.
“It was certainly a better Monday in work,” she added after netting a hat-trick against Everton last Sunday.“A few of the girls keep a tab on me and it’s great to be able to go in having played well!
“Luck also plays its part. My third goal was a mishit. Maybe a season or two ago that wouldn’t have gone in, but that’s what happens when you’re full of confidence.”
SALUTE: Doncaster’s Courtney Sweetman-Kirk celebrates scoring against Durham
INSPIRATION: Fran Kirby celebrates scoring during her Reading days