Roker Report: How would you rate Durham’s performance over the off-season? Over-performing, underperforming or just what you expected?
Mark Padden: For me, it’s been as I expected. We’re coming into a season with pretty much the same squad, some see that as a potential weakness but with a team as close-knit as this group, I see it as a big advantage. The lasses know each other inside out so why change what's not broken? We’ve strengthened accordingly to match the ambitions and switch to full time which, all being well, should see us challenging at the top again.
There’s not much been said about pre-season games other than an impressive performance away to Manchester City and two B.C.D. clashes against Hibernian & Sheffield United at Maiden Castle but the general atmosphere feels just as positive than ever, if not more so.
Daily training has allowed for new routines, new drills and the assistance of Commando Joes, one of the club sponsors, who put on what looked to be a fantastic military-style session along with some teamwork challenges.
We’ve never had a pre-season with so many players, which can only be a good thing. Plenty of time for new signings to settle in, plenty of team bonding time, hopefully we come out all guns blazing!
RR: What do you make of your transfer business in this window? Happy with the additions, some big losses or still need to add more?
MP: I’m very happy, especially with Jess Clarke! Still can’t quite believe a 50-cap England international has chosen to come to Durham! The experience she brings will be huge for everyone, especially the younger players; they can hopefully learn a lot from her.
The link up between her, Mac & Beth has the potential to be lethal.
Georgia Robert, another great addition. She should easily fill the void left by Abby Holmes and strengthen an already notoriously stubborn defence, she was excellent against us last season so great to have her on board and with the option of Tatiana Saunders between the sticks too, you may as well just brick up the goal!
Maria Farrugia is already well known in the area and I hope she can replicate the eye for goal she had at Sunderland for us.
Saoirse Noonan is here full time too following her rehab stint back in Ireland. I’m really looking forward to seeing her in action. Also given her Gaelic Football background, she’ll be useful back up goalie if ever called up too!
I would have liked another forward to give more depth and options but, with the promotion of Grace Ayre and Lily Crosthwaite to the first team, as well as a vast pool at Cestria who will likely be given a chance in the Conti Cup, I’m confident this squad can go far.
RR: What did you make of the news that Durham were going full-time? Are you happy, unsure or perhaps a mixture of the two?
MP: Personally, I’m on the fence. We’ve seen a few clubs have to revert back to part-time over the off-season for various reasons so that’s always a worry but Durham have a great setup across the board so shouldn’t have any problems in the long run.
Of course, it’s a fantastic opportunity for the players to make the switch and realise their dream of being pro players and it broadens the attraction of the club - hopefully being an independent full time club will appeal to some of the very best (looking at you, Jordan Nobbs).
On the flip side, we’ve had to say goodbye to some quality players as a result, Abby Holmes and Nicki Gears being the main two. Abby was a rock at the back with a rocket of a shot, she’ll be a big miss for us but a huge gain for Sunderland.
I was only saying the other week that Nicki Gears will be like a new signing on her return and that her goals could be vital for a promotion push. If she carries on the form she had for Cestria last season, Sunderland have got a hell of a player!
The side to this that few mention is the route to coaching the full time move offers. Sarah Robson is now a coach for the new Development side alongside her playing role.
— Durham Women FC (@DurhamWFC) June 9, 2022
Durham Women FC are set to take their next step ahead of the 2022/23 season - and will be transitioning to a full-time training model.
RR: Do you suspect anyone will have a breakout season or will you likely be relying on key players such as Beth Hepple and Mollie Lambert?
MP: As I mentioned before, it’s largely the same squad so the lasses know each other really well. Beth is always a threat and I’m fully expecting her to be in her usual spot at the top end of the goal scorer chart.
I see a battle for the no.1 spot, its a tough choice between two excellent keepers in Naoisha McAloon & Tatiana Saunders. Both deserve to start and who ever misses out will only be spurred on to push harder, I really can’t choose between them.
It’ll also be a huge season for Grace Ayre and Lily Crosthwaite. Both were around the first team last season and both had stand out performances against Manchester City and Leicester City respectively in the Conti Cup, now they’re full first team members. They’ll feel under pressure but they’ve shown they can more than handle it. They’re both amazing players and they’re going to make the most of it.
RR: This will be the second time that we have seen a sold out attendance for this fixture. What do you make of the derby and does it reflect the love for football in the North East?
MP: The North East lives and breathes football. It doesn’t matter who plays, people will watch, especially a derby game. It’s a shame Durham have only got a capacity of 1,500! If there was a bigger ground available, it could be 10x that easily.
Just look at Newcastle last season, 22,134 for a 4th division match! That says everything about football in the North East.
Us Durham fans are a passionate bunch and the derby is always special but I see this one as more unique given Durham’s independent status, they’re sort of a neutral club in an area split between black and white and red and white, fans from all clubs support the lasses, making almost a “rivalry of friends”, more so this season given the transfers between the two! (No tactic sharing!)
The atmosphere is always turned up a notch on derby day, be it Maiden Castle or Eppleton, there’s always a real buzz, which Mark & Andy will amplify ahundred times over. I really can’t wait for this.
RR: Who would you say could be a thorn in the side for Sunderland? Who do we need to look out for?
MP: Obviously your usual suspects in Beth Hepple and Mollie Lambert - they showed just how much of a nuisance they can be in both derbies last season, scoring home and away with Mollies goal at Eppleton ultimately winning the Leagues Goal of the Season award (any chance to see that celebration again!)
Dee Bradley has become a real threat at set pieces and has developed a knack of being in the right place at the right time. She’s definitely one to watch.
The experience of Jess Clarke and Sarah Robson in the middle will show through. Mac being fresh from the Euros will be well up for it, just ask Ada Hegerberg what a “gentle tap” from Mac is like.
She's been widely praised as one of the best centre backs at the Euros which will be a huge confidence booster for her and the rest of the team. Ever the pro, Mac will make her presence felt in more ways than one.
RR: It’s always tough to give a score prediction for the first game of the season, but how do you see this game panning out?
MP: I got the last one horribly wrong so don’t take tips from me.
This could well be the tightest derby ever. Both have strengthened well and both could easily snatch three points. Both teams will cancel each other out and very likely it will be an unfortunate mistake that will lead to a goal.
I was at Eppleton last week for the friendly against Forest - the Holmes-Brown link up will be very dangerous. Thankfully Durham know all about it already, but it's something they need to watch, as it could well be the key to a winning goal.
I do think there will goals but only one seperating them. I’m going 2-1 Durham with Dee heading a winner - no pressure, Dee!
RR: And lastly, what are your expectations for Durham this season? With them moving to full-time, should the expectation be to get promoted or at least challenge in the top 3?
MP: The ultimate aim will of course be promotion but I’d be more than happy with top 3. Last season was a combination of a loss of form at the same time those clubs around found theirs.
I’ve seen the quality of signings the other clubs have made (which also shows just how attractive the league is becoming globally) - it’s going to be another tough season that is near impossible to call.
Anyone could go up, anyone could go down. There are very few leagues like that out there, just look at the final game of last season! I mean going into it in 5th but still having a chance of nabbing 2nd is mighty impressive and almost unheard of!
To dust off an old Newcastle quote, “we don’t demand a team the wins, we demand a team that tries” and this team never fails to do that. As long as they go out and give their all every game, that’s all we can ask. Win, lose or draw the lasses constantly do us proud.