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MORTON manager Kenny Shiels and club icon Warren Hawke were in attendance as girls from all over Inverclyde officially signed up to become the first intake of the Morton Girls programme.

Every girl received new football kits and had a photograph taken with Kenny as a memento of the historic occasion.

What excites them more, though, is the opportunity to play competitively for the club.

Georgia McShane (13) along with friends Caitlin McKee and Morgan Bailey (both 12) said: “We’re looking forward to playing in the league. We started training four weeks ago and have played some friendlies.

“We also played in a tournament against teams from Giffnock, Pollok and Erskine and won all our games.

“We definitely prefer playing properly rather than just for fun.”

Likewise, Rachel McDowell (15) told how she enjoyed coming along to previous training sessions set up by the Greenock Morton Community Trust.

She said: “I really enjoyed the coaching sessions I went to before with Paddy [McAlees] and Sean [Crighton], especially the seven-a-side tournaments at the end. I’m excited for the league to start and the new strips are really nice as well.”

Head Coach of Morton Girls, Leeanne McPhail, is originally from Inverclyde and driven by her own experience of trying to play in the area.

She said: “When I grew up here we had rarely had any opportunities to play football due to a lack of facilities.

“After experiencing that I knew I had to make sure that these things were in place for young girls who want to play now.

“I think the fact we have one professional club in the area and it is getting involved is essential.”

Leeanne also reserved special praise for the trust.

“Working with Tom [Elliott], Warren and Karen [Welsh] through the GMCT has been brilliant.

“The coaches know they’re part of a strong structure and the girls feel they’re matching the boys in their classes who play for academy teams. It’s the hard work of the GMCT which has allowed that to happen.”

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At the event, speakers included Hawke – now the Consultant for Club Development and an influential figure in getting the Morton Girls project off the ground – Shiels and sponsor Steve Tomlin of McDonald’s.

Warren had some interesting ideas regarding the ethos of the project, suggesting Morton Girls will implement a strategy used within the club’s youth academy to ensure academic work does not suffer at the hands of football.

He said: “Parents, if they find out their child is not putting in the effort at school, can pick up the phone to the club or the coaches and let us know and the child will not be allowed to play in the competitive fixtures for a week or two.”

First-team manager Kenny Shiels, who spoke to every girl at the event, also reiterated the importance of Morton Girls in the community as a whole.

“To have all genders coming through the system is fantastic,” said Kenny. “It helps them to bond with the club and establish links with everyone around the area.

“It’s definitely vital that the club is heavily involved in promoting the girls game. The local football club is the focal point of any community and the fact the children will be coming to participate and represent the club gives us enormous pride.”

And Steve, who will sponsor some of the strips through his McDonald’s franchise, was in no doubt about the credentials of Warren and Kenny’s arguments.

He said: “I fully support what the GMCT are trying to do in bringing grassroots football to the Inverclyde community.

“This was almost unheard of 20 years ago, so I think any club trying to do this kind of project needs and deserves help.”

Of course, Tom Elliott, the Community Engagement Manager, was delighted with the start Morton Girls has made.

“We’ve had an incredible response,” said Tom. “Even at the very start with the coaching sessions we had around 100 girls attending.

“I’m a firm believer in trying to make sure girls are given just as many opportunities with football as boys.

“We’ve put a 3-5 year plan together and, at the end of that, I’d like the girls teams to be challenging for leagues and getting international recognition.”

With those in charge aiming so high, the future looks bright for Inverclyde’s girls.  Something Hawke was quick to point out.

“I’m a big believer that you don’t do anything half-hearted,” said Warren.

“More and more girls are taking up football and, if Inverclyde is anything like the boys as far as local talent is concerned, I’m sure there are plenty of gems around the area who may well, once they get into adulthood, make a living from the game.”

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