Helen McLeod hopes St Mirren Women’s memorable game at the SMiSA Stadium helps to inspire the next generation of female players.
McLeod was in inspired form herself as she helped the Buddies smash title hopefuls Westdyke in Paisley – setting up Kelly Ross’ goal on the way to a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Many of the players walked out on to the pitch with their children as mascots, with several more young Buddies in among the crowd.
McLeod hopes the momentous occasion will help get even more girls interested in playing the beautiful game after seeing their new idols shine at the club’s ground.
McLeod told Renfrewshire Live Sport: “It was a dream day for us, everything we wanted and more.
“We knew it was going to be a tough afternoon because Westdyke are a very strong team.
“We used our excitement of playing at the stadium to our advantage. To come away with three points, three goals and a clean sheet, you can’t ask for more than that.
“We were all nervous before the game, myself included. It’s normal and healthy to be that way before kick-off.
“It was so great to look up and see so many fans in the stand, including family and friends who have supported us so much over the last few years.
“We’ve all been so excited for this. We had all the mascots out with us and a lot of wee girls watching us, which is great.
“The mascots for me personally was the highlight of the day. To see the excitement on their faces was amazing.
“Once we stepped onto the pitch and the whistle went, everyone relaxed and focused on the job we had to do.
“A lot of young fans came to our training session the day before as well and they were all waiting for us at full-time too.
“We couldn’t ask for more. We want to inspire the next generation.
“It’s a great feeling to see them all looking up to us. Hopefully that’s the next generation of Saints coming through the ranks, both players and fans.”
Despite having home advantage, St Mirren went into Sunday afternoon’s clash as underdogs against a Westdyke side who now sit second in the SWF League One table.
Saints are now just four points behind them and McLeod believes her side are good enough to keep climbing the division, as long as they improve their consistency on the pitch.
McLeod said: “You could see in the last 10 minutes our energy levels started to drop off. Theirs did too as it’s such a big, grass pitch.
“The subs came on and gave us more energy, which was great. We need every single member of our team to be a success.
“We know how well we can play. Our issue has been consistency. If we can play like this every single week then we could pick up points against anyone.
“We need to believe in ourselves. If we get our attitude and mentality right there’s no limit to what we can achieve.
“We’re all going to remember this for the rest of our lives. But even though we played so well, we’ll still look back on it and find things to improve on. I think that’s the sign of a good team.”
St Mirren Women head coach Kate Cooper paid tribute to her goalkeeper Jo Casey for staying focused during a quiet shift to pick up an excellent clean sheet against Westdyke.
And she echoed McLeod’s hopes that her entire team’s brilliant performance has Paisley kids wanting to be the club’s next big talent.
The Buddies were dominant throughout the clash at the SMiSA Stadium but keeper Casey had to be alert on a few occasions – particularly when pulling off a smart save to keep her side 2-0 ahead just before half-time.
Cooper believes that stop was crucial to what turned out to be a superb result and afternoon for everyone associated with the women’s team.
She said: “It was a special day for everyone involved. We managed the occasion, were committed and we maintained our shape really well.
“The kids on the pitch and in the stands loved it and want to be part of the club.
“These players are their role models now and it’s about them wanting to be the next Ceara Macintyre, the next Maxine Fury or Kelly Ross.
“It’s difficult for them to relate to men’s football. It’s about giving them the role models to look up to and be like those players. That’s important to them and us.
“I thought our goalkeeper Jo did particularly well because I didn’t feel she was under pressure a lot. But when the key moments came along she delivered.
“That save she made before half-time changed the game. It was brave and we went into the break two up because of it, instead of having just conceded.
“That galvanised the team to keep going.”
Cooper was delighted with the way her Buddies managed both the occasion and the match on Sunday, having taken the lead and never looked back after putting in an assured display across the park.
The games don’t get any easier, with the club up against league leaders FC Edinburgh this coming weekend.
Cooper believes they can now take on anyone having comfortably beaten title hopefuls Westdyke in Paisley.
She said: “We managed the game a lot better. We spoke about not shrinking if we went ahead and we did keep pushing on.
“It was always going to be a challenge creating against Westdyke from open play because their goalkeeper is very good. She comes off her line very well as a confident sweeper.
“We talked about dominating the set pieces and I think we did that on the day. We really took our chances when they came.
“We’ve asked how we can push ourselves on now over the next month.
“We need to enjoy it but then we’re back to looking forward to playing Edinburgh. The challenge now is how much we can take this result forward.”
After just their second-ever game at the SMiSA Stadium, Cooper thanked St Mirren for helping the women’s team to continue their rapid development on and off the pitch.
Cooper added: “I have to thank the club. The women’s game has grown so rapidly and to be part of the football family at St Mirren is very important.
“Hopefully we’ve inspired some new fans and new players. “
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