Mulhern excited by new challenge

CHAMPION NEWS! Sunderland Ladies' Sophie Williams shows off the Women's Premier League trophy at the Stadium of Light last night.
CHAMPION NEWS! Sunderland Ladies' Sophie Williams shows off the Women's Premier League trophy at the Stadium of Light last night.
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SUNDERLAND Ladies manager Mick Mulhern is targeting a quick return to top-flight football.

And the long-serving boss believes the club’s new tie-in with SAFC will ensure that happens.

Last night, SAFC chief executive Margaret Byrne announced that the women’s organisation had been fully integrated into the club.

It means that SAFC will support the women’s section – the team will continue to play at Eppleton CW in Hetton – with a General Manager role to be created at the Stadium of Light.

The move provides a solid platform for Mulhern and his team to push on as they prepare for the start of a new era as part of the professional and semi-professional Women’s Super League. They start their first campaign in FA WSL2 in March next year, having won the Premier League for the last three seasons.

“The move to be part of Sunderland AFC is very exciting,” said Mulhern, who has been manager of the women’s team for 14 years.

“The women’s game is expanding rapidly, and we want to be a major part of that.

“We were extremely disappointed not to be part of the Super League when it began as we had done so well in the top division. But we are in the new second division now and clearly promotion to the top division is the target. That is our challenge and Sunderland AFC are right behind us in that ambition.

“It won’t be easy as the women’s game is moving on quickly and other clubs are changing. Money is being put into clubs around the country and the overall strength of the game is developing. The London clubs, including Watford, Millwall and Reading are all looking very strong. But it’s a challenge we are all relishing.”

Mulhern (pictured) is one of the top coaches in the women’s game, and is held in very high regard.

The 46-year-old’s name will surely have been mentioned within the Football Association in connection with the vacant England manager’s job after Hope Powell’s dismissal – but work commitments at the moment rule him out of contention.

“I’ve had one or two calls from people asking about the England job, but I have five years to go at work before I can retire,” explained Mulhern, who can boast a long list of players that he has helped through into international football. The current England squad includes four of his former players – Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze and Jordan Nobbs.

“Whoever takes over with England will get my full support and I’d love to help out in any way I can. But I’m fully committed to Sunderland and getting the club back into the top division.

“That’s what we all have to achieve.”

The switch from traditional winter season to a summer campaign, has meant Mulhern has had to carefully plan his players’ preparations.

They are already going through intensive strength and conditioning sessions, and will begin pre-season preparations in December.

Mulhern is also busy tweaking his squad, having already signed Lauren Briggs from Durham Women, and England U19 midfielder Becky Bass from Leeds – and he’s got his eyes on two more prospective signings in the coming months.

“I’m very happy with our squad,” he said. “Almost everyone is now tied down, and if I can get one or two more in, then so much the better.”

H Sunderland Women chairman Maurice Alderson – now an SAFC Ladies Director – is delighted by the recent developments.

“This is an important point in the evolution of SAFC Ladies,” he said. “It has been hard work in getting to this stage and we are all grateful for the valuable contribution of Sunderland AFC (in winning a place in the Super League).

“The prospect of establishing ourselves among the elite of the women’s game and working in tandem with SAFC is exciting and will go a long way in securing the long-term future of the ladies club.”

Margaret Byrne said: “The women’s team has always been an important part of our football family and the creation of the new Super League offered us a great opportunity to bring them fully under our wing.

“By sharing our know-how and resources, we have been able secure league status, which was vital to the future of the women’s team. We are now looking forward to seeing the team go from strength to strength, with promotion to WSL 1 being our primary aim.”