World Cup can grow the local game in Northern Ireland

Heather Mearns
Mearns has been involved with Crusaders since she was 13 years old and now coaches alongside her playing commitments

Crusaders Strikers midfielder Heather Mearns believes that the success of the Women's World Cup can help grow the local game.

Mearns, who also coaches in Crusaders' academy, says the interest surrounding the World Cup will get more girls involved with the sport.

"I was 13 when I first joined the club and I think the interest has always been there," said Mearns.

"Having the increased coverage will only help that growth further."

"I've coached my under-12 team from when they were six-years-old and I love seeing the next generation come through the ranks.

"Speaking from our academy's perspective, we have always had high numbers and barely a day goes by where there isn't a call to see about their child coming down.

"I think the World Cup will help the game grow here and it will help some of the clubs that maybe don't have that base.

"Hopefully that growth will become more widespread and help all the teams strengthen across the board, which can only be a good thing for the league."

Crusaders Strikers celebrate their title success in 2010
Mearns, in the green hairband, was part of the Crusaders team that won the league title in 2009, 2010 and 2012

Mearns admits the Crues are in a season of transition, with new manager Spike Hill taking the reigns at Seaview this season.

Despite some mixed form in the league, the Strikers have reached the County Antrim Shield final as well as the last four in the Challenge Cup.

Glentoran await in both the Co Antrim final and Challenge Cup semi-final next month, with Mearns hoping the Crues can avenge the defeat that the Glens inflicted in the League Cup semi-final in May.

"We want to be back at where we were and you have to be able to beat the likes of Linfield and Glentoran to do that," added the 33-year-old.

"We're very proud of our academy and we've had plenty of youngsters coming through to play lots of minutes this season.

"Some of them have been our stand out performers and it's a great opportunity for them to play on the big stage here.

"A lot of them will be playing in their first senior final later this month in the Shield, and hopefully when they get that taste we can push on from there and keep building.

"I'm not quite ready to hang up the boots just yet though, I've another few years in me yet."