THERE are few Celtic players better placed at analysing the previous season’s successes and failures than Kelly Clark. The team captain, closing in on a decade at the club, has been there as the women’s team has evolved from the amateur set-up of old into the professional outfit of today.

Another change arrives this season as the newly-formed SWPL ushers in a change in format. A twelve-team top flight featuring a split has been introduced for the new campaign and the 28-year-old defender has no doubts where the team can improve this term.

Last season was an historic one for Celtic. They lifted the League Cup for only the second time ever and followed up that success with a maiden Scottish Cup triumph, yet the team were unable to keep pace with Rangers and Glasgow City as they settled for a third-placed finish.

Both cups were sealed with victories over City in the respective finals and Clark is adamant that on their day, Fran Alonso’s side are good enough to go toe-to-toe with anyone in Scotland. The problem, as the defender sees it, has been hitting that form on a regular basis and establishing some consistency in the league.

“It’s probably something that’s been frustrating at Celtic for a number of years,” she said. “When I think back to before the professional days, our big issue was dropping points against teams that finished below us.

“That’s something that we did last season and it was frustrating. As soon as you have a little blip, it’s quite easy to let it snowball into a bit of a bigger blip.

“I don’t think in the games we lost last year that we were miles off it at any time. Maybe one of the games we weren’t at our best but in the games that we lost I didn’t feel a million miles away.

“So we need to work on the finer details and be consistent with them to make sure these little blips don’t happen again.”

That’s easier said than done, of course, but Clark is determined to aim high. After the success in the cups last season and the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Champions League, there is only one tournament where Celtic can improve on last year’s showing: the league.

Clark, for one, has aspirations of lifting the title come the end of the season. Merely hoping to repeat past glories, she argues, simply won’t cut it.

“I think aiming for something that you’ve already done or worse is pointless,” she said. “We want to do better every season and we have done that since Fran came in.

“In the first year we got Champions League – there were no cups played because of Covid – and in the second year we disappointingly missed out on the Champions League but we lifted two trophies.

“I’ve not had the conversation with the manager yet about this season’s aims but aiming for anything less than last year is pointless. We have to at least sit down and say we want to do better and the league let us down last year.”

The hard work starts on Sunday. Celtic’s campaign begins with a tricky test at home to Hibernian – the pick of the fixtures on the opening day of the season – and although there will be a few familiar faces on the opposing team, Clark is expecting the capital club to throw up a few surprises after a busy summer of recruitment.

Clark explained: “I’m looking forward to it. It’s a bit of an unknown. Hibs have made a lot of signings so we don’t have any footage of what this new Hibs looks like.

“We can do some investigating on the players that they have signed and we know one of them [Krystyna Freda] as she’s previously played for Glasgow City. But how the new players fit together as a team is a bit of an unknown.

“It’s potentially more important this week to focus on ourselves and make sure the things that we can control – like our performance – we do well.”

Women’s football has been receiving plenty of long-overdue airtime and column inches of late thanks to England’s triumph at Euro 2022 and Clark is adamant that this summer could act as a watershed moment in the sport.

The Celtic skipper firmly believes that the increase in exposure will lead to an upturn in interest in the English Women’s Super League (WSL) and hopes that attitudes in Scotland have shifted over the last month or so, too.

“I thought it was excellent,” Clark said. “I think what it’s done for women’s football is unbelievable. I don’t really have the words for it.

“It made me emotional to see what it was like and I would try and put myself in the players’ shoes. I don’t know how they didn’t cry singing their national anthems in front of full stadiums.

“I’m not just talking about the England squad – Ireland had a good following, Germany had a good following. If you had said to me even four or five years ago that that would happen then I would have laughed in your face.

“I just don’t have the words to explain how that whole tournament made me feel. Over the last five years we have been making big steps in women’s football here but that is the biggest step – to the point where it’s probably a high jump – that I’ve ever seen.

“If people don’t give women’s football the credit and come along and watch, especially with the WSL in England…

“Many people will have went along and watched women’s football for the first time and if that doesn’t make people go along and watch teams in the WSL then I don’t know what ever will. It was a fantastic tournament – great quality, great standards – and I just hope that it has opened a lot of eyes for a lot of people.”