Feature: Boss Hunt - Villa Ladies will be force in the Super League
Boss Joe Hunt is a contented man as he sits in the Villa Park dugout assessing the past season - and exciting future - for his Villa Ladies side.
Hunt is immensely proud to be the boss of the League Cup winners, Villa beating Leeds on penalties in the showpiece final back in May.
He's also satisfied that his team managed to finish sixth in the National Division after a campaign punctured by injuries to his senior players.
But he knows the hard work starts here.
Villa were awarded Super League status a few months ago, a move which will see them take on the cream of the women's game in a summer division through March to October.
He knows it will be a step-up for his young, emerging team but one he's confident they can make successfully.
He said: "The final few weeks of the season were a rollercoaster.
"We went through a tough time midway through the campaign. We were knocked out of the County Cup by Coventry in the last minute and we lost a couple of league games that we shouldn't have.
"We were down to the bare bones and a host of key attacking players were out.
"Then all of a sudden things changed. Megan Walsh, Livy Fergusson, Bethan Merrick and Sherry McCue came back from injury - big players for us.
"We also achieved our Super League status after a fantastic bid to the FA. That picked us up and buoyed us a group.
"We got to the League Cup final - and won it, which was fantastic for the team and the club as a whole.
"The final was unbelievable. I always had a feeling we would nick it. It was tense but they kept their nerve in the penalty shoot-out. They have mental toughness as a group - that's what saw them through.
"And that's what gives me confidence for the future.
"We are playing Super League next term and I think this squad have the ability - physically and mentally.
"I feel this is a young team that could become great. There has always been progression the past few years even with the previous managers.
"Our current young crop have been exceptional so far and there's a few more coming through.
"Look at players like Jade Richards. She's a Rolls-Royce defender. Then there's the U17s captain Maizie Sadler-Baker. She's injured at the moment but she's a prime candidate to come into the seniors when she's back.
"Maddy Cusack [pictured], who's only 17, came in as a squad player but she's now one of the first names on the team sheet. It's very positive for the future.
"My philosophy is very much the same as Paul Lambert. At one stage this past season our average age was 17 and it will be a young squad next term too. I believe in giving chances to hungry, determined players like Paul does with the first team.
"You can mould players from a young age. And they gain an affinity to the club they play for.
"I have belief in young players. Some of our best players are 17 and 18.
"It shows if they are good enough, they are old enough.
"The only way to get experience is to play games. That's what Paul has done with first team. You have to trust them. They will make mistakes but it's the only way they will learn."
Hunt is relishing his second campaign in charge after taking over in July 2012.
The former Centre of Excellence boss was thrust into the senior manager role after the departure of former manager Graham Abercrombie.
He's excelled - and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Now he's eager to pit his skills in the Super League in the coming campaigns.
He added: "I have loved it. You like it when you win. It was hard work when we were losing. Players don't like it either.
"But it makes you stronger.
"Players want to play. I understand frustrations but I have to go with instinct in terms of who's right for each game. It's not just about who is playing well.
"It's about who is right for each game tactically. They understand that now.
"That philosophy will be very much the case for the Super League."
The Super League bid was successful thanks to the hard work of staff in the marketing and community department, although Hunt was also quick to praise chief executive Paul Faulkner for giving the process an added push.
He added: "The whole process started before Christmas.
"Our community administrator Martin Harrison put the work into the bid. It was two months non-stop. He was relentless alongside the design team. He did the graft.
"The final part saw us give a presentation to the FA. Paul Faulkner went along to represent us. To have him there pushing us was fantastic. That helped us over the line.
"That tells you everything you need to know about us as a club. For him to be presenting on our behalf shows we are one club. It was a tremendous boost. The FA were certainly impressed.
"The team are delighted to be given the chance to play at that level too. They want that progression. They want to move up. They want to play against the better teams.
"We haven't challenged this season. We lost games we shouldn't have. Next season we want to be challenging for the title. We want to be as competitive as possible."
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