As the team’s leading goal scorer and one of the more experienced players within the group, Palace Ladies’ Gemma Bryan has led from the front this season, and again showed her class with two goals in the space of 10 minutes in yesterday’s 4-1 victory over MK Dons.
For the twenty-eight year-old, the promotion winning game completed a near-perfect debut season with the Eagles, who she joined from Women’s Super League side Watford last year.
“It’s definitely number one for me. Everything that I wanted to achieve this season I’ve done it. Palace have done a lot for me and if you’re playing your best football you have to be at a club where you are happy and I’m happy here. We’ve got a good set of girls, they’ve assisted me really well this season with the amount of goals I’ve scored and we’ve hit the heights. To get promotion from the league is really satisfying, it’s nice when you set out to achieve something and you actually achieve it.”
Although some emphatic scorelines suggest otherwise, Palace haven’t had it all their own way this season and have had to work hard to keep up the pace that was set early on when beating fellow title challengers Gillingham 5-0. However it is this kind of mental and physical toughness to keep performing at such high standards that the striker believes will stand the team in good stead for next season.
“This year we’ve had our challenges, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. We’ve won games comfortably but we’ve had a few battles as well - MK Dons, Gillingham, Luton, they’re all good sides, and mentally it has been hard because we’ve had that many more games and we’ve needed to keep up the momentum.
"Next season the players are going to need to be even more committed - the games won’t be on our doorstep so will mean travelling more, training will be up to twice a week, so we’ve got to be fitter and stronger physically and mentally.”
Bryan, who has been playing football since the age of eight, is one of the senior players within the group, and has already experienced promotion when playing (and top-scoring) for Charlton Ladies who were promoted to the Women’s National Division (one league higher than the Southern Division) in 2011. With the likes of Pam McRoberts and Fran Ali who were also part of that promotion winning team, the side look to be in a strong position to handle the challenges to come.
“We’ve got a really experienced team here but we’ve also a good blend of younger players. They’ll be looking to us to give them a bit of guidance and support which we’re here to do, so I don’t think it’s going to be a shock to the system. But we’ve got to be realistic, we know it’s going to be competitive but we want to keep this run going for as long as we can, there’s a good fighting spirit in the group with both staff and players - everyone has a winning mentality.”
For any player, no matter what their level, it is the attention of onlookers which often inspires that last ditch tackle, or lung busting run, and Bryan is thankful for the support of Crystal Palace fans who have attended both home and away games to cheer on what has been a remarkable season for the ladies’ team.
“The fans have been like our twelfth man. I don’t know how many we get but we can hear them and it’s a reason why we’ve won some of those harder games. We’ve had some good media attention this season too, and it’s been great to know that the hard work we put in is being recognised.”