UFH hit the ground running as historic Super League season looms

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The biggest year in the history of women’s football at the University of Fort Hare has begun in earnest.

Only few weeks into 2024 and UFH coach Asanda Mnakaniso already has a good idea of who will form part of the university’s first-ever Hollywoodbets Super League squad.

Fort Hare booked their place in women’s football’s premier competition after winning the Sasol League last year.

Their path to the final became the stuff of legend as they dominated the coastal stream, won the provincial playoff and then slayed some of the nation’s best teams to be crowned champions of the semi-professional league.

The Super League, which includes giants of the game like Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies and TS Galaxy Queens, gets underway in early March.

So alluring is the prospect of playing in the elite competition that some 50 hopefuls attended Mnakaniso’s open trials earlier this month. Those who made the cut attended a second round of trials last weekend.

Even more significant is that some triallists travelled from as far as Cape Town and Johannesburg to make an impression.

The coach is looking to build a squad of 35 players to carry Fort Hare through the season. With the team predicted to play north of 40 games in 2024, the objective is to have at least two players available in each position to share the workload.

At the University Sport South Africa tournament in December seven of his charges went down through injury, exposing a lack of depth in the squad.

He has addressed this immediately and is off to an excellent start, with 28 players arriving for the first day of pre-season training on Monday.

Mnakaniso’s wish-list for the year includes a centre-back, goalkeeper, striker and midfielder.

Some of the prospects he had looked at on the weekend were not students but given what was at stake this season it was essential that all bases were covered, he said.

 “This is going to be a long season and we don’t want to interfere with our students’ academic programme.

“It only ends in December and players will want a break at some point. That’s why we’ve worked hard to make sure positions are always filled.”

He was pleased with what he had seen at the trials.

The desire to play in the top flight was evident on the pitch, especially among the Eastern Cape players not selected for the province’s current Super League teams – Gqeberha’s City Lads and Butterworth’s Thunderbirds Ladies.

While the existing UFH players who assembled in Alice this week were not at peak fitness after the Christmas break, Mnakaniso was not especially concerned.

“Fifteen of our ladies played at a tournament in Ngcobo on December 15 and we were there to watch them. That’s not that long ago so it won’t be hard getting them back to their best.

“This season is going to be huge for us.”