Two players at opposite ends of the experience scale are liking what they are seeing of the gradual revolution at Lewes.
Sian Cheedy, the experienced former Wales international defender, and former Chelsea starlet Nicole Matthews, whose star might well still be in the ascendancy, have turned up at the Dripping Pan with different stories behind them but a shared desire to continue their career paths at the Sussex FAW Premier League club.
Cheedy, formerly of Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and, more recently, the now defunct Ebbsfleet United, has been with Lewes for a few months already, having moved there at the start of this year, at the age of 30, with the primary purpose of prolonging her career.
What she encountered rekindled her passion for the game, and she is excited about what she is seeing as manager John Donoghue assembles a side he hopes might yet challenge for a place in the Super League.
She told Sent Her Forward: “To be honest, I just wanted to play again, but when I came down and did the training sessions, the tempo was just so high, the quality was high – what John expected from us, what the players expected from each other, as well… it became a whole culture that I just loved and got into straight away.”
Another factor in her speedy integration at the club was the welcome from players already at Lewes – something her new team-mate also spoke of following her recent arrival.
Matthews, just 22, returns after more than a season out of the game after leaving Chelsea – a team already at the summit of that Super League – to concentrate on a key year at university.
And her priority now is to make up for lost time after discovering that a year is a long time in terms of football development.
She told Sent Her Forward: “It’s been very difficult. You don’t realise how much you lose it. [But] all the girls have been really welcoming. The fitness is good, so hopefully, in a few months I’ll be back on track.”
Matthews, an attacking midfielder, favours the role just behind the striker, but she admits she hasn’t a clue what is in store for her as the Rookettes build up momentum on and off the pitch for their assault on the big time.
After playing her first 90 minutes for the club in sweltering temperatures on their new 3G training surface, she confessed: “I like playing behind the forward, but I don’t know what John’s managing expectations are, so I don’t know where I’ll end up.”
She believes her early taste of Lewes action, against Southampton Saints on Sunday, was crucial to her integration at the club.
“For me, it was playing with different people,” she said. “It’s really hard to get to grips with how people think and how people move.
“I was impressed with both [sides]. Southampton came out and gave it a good go. Also, they were well organised. I think they’re a good fit, really. They gave us a good running.”
Her team-mate agreed. “Pre-season is very much getting to know your team-mates,” said Cheedy. “Especially with the new girls that are coming in, and their movement and their expectations and what we’re trying to do here as a club. And I think we were very successful in that. I think we learnt a lot about each other today on the pitch.”
She added: “In training, you can match each other; you know what each other’s about. And when you play in that position with our own game plan, that’s where I feel you start to learn about your team-mates.”
One aspect neither was so impressed by was the conditions. The game was played in strong sunshine, and the heat generated was intensified on the rubbery 3G surface, much like it was during the recent World Cup in Canada.
Several players bemoaned the heat and complained of blisters.
Cheedy said: “It was so hot out there. I’m not a fan of 3G anyway. I’d much prefer to be playing on grass. The heat was definitely a killer, and 3G obviously plays a factor in that.”
She added: “I agree that the heat was tough today. I feel like we struggled a little bit with that. But on the whole, I think we’re looking really good.”
Of course, most of the coming season is unlikely to be played in such conditions, and in any case, the first team will play its home games on grass (and perhaps some mud) at the Dripping Pan next door – although the two development sides are scheduled to use The Rookery as their home.
Matthews admitted: “The heat got to me.” And she added, slightly tongue-in-cheek: “I used to like [3G]. After today, that’s slightly changed.”