THERE is an undoubted irony about Strathclyde Sirens raising their profile in a season when no fans were allowed to attend. But it is true regardless.

The only Scottish team in the Vitality Netball Superleague, there was little expectation on the Glasgow-based squad heading into a campaign that would be played entirely on the road.

Throw in a coaching conundrum that saw the team led by one set of staff during the week and another on a matchday and it was being widely chalked up pre-season as one to “put down to experience”.

Instead, Sirens posted statistically their best-ever set of results as they came within a whisker of making the end-of-season play-offs.

That form earned them new admirers and a greater degree of respect south of the border after the team showed they didn’t need the home comforts of Emirates Arena to compete against the league’s elite.

“I’m really happy overall with how the season went for us,” said Karen Atkinson, Sirens’ technical director who ended up also taking the team on matchdays.

“To get to round 19 with a chance of making the semi-finals – even if it was very slim – was a great achievement. And nobody would have put us in that position at the beginning of the season.

“We knew there was potential in the group and what they were capable of. But because they hadn’t had that opportunity before – some of them were quite inexperienced – we just weren’t sure just what we were going to get.

“To perform individually like they did and how they came together as a team probably surpassed even our own expectations.

“It’s been a tough year as there was initial anxiety about going back to training and then you didn’t have the social aspect that comes with being part of a team.

“But they adapted really quickly to the circumstances they were faced with and we saw that with their performances.

“We’ve gained a lot of credibility south of the border. We wanted to put ourselves on the map and showed we were here to really compete and not just make up the numbers.

“A lot of people in England have spoken about Sirens becoming their second favourite team and that was really nice to hear.”

Atkinson hadn’t planned on being courtside this season but with head coach Lesley MacDonald unable to travel due to personal circumstances and her assistant Claire Maxwell having a baby, the former England international stepped up.

Her return went so well that she was recognised as the Coach of the Season although, living near Loughborough, she insists it was a collective effort only made possible by those who worked with the players during the week.

“It was difficult as I’m not based in Scotland so we had to be creative with how we managed the team,” she added. “And it can be unsettling for players not to have a consistent head coach at every session.

“But Lesley was still very heavily involved in Scotland, Claire did a lot in the first half of the season and Rachel Cremin stepped up too from our pathway coaching team to help.

“The girls embraced it and made the best out of the situation and just tried to learn as much as they could from all the different coaches.”

A big part of the Sirens ethos is a willingness to reach out to the community, either by meeting fans or through supporting worthy projects.

Denied that face-to-face bond due to Covid, they have connected through social media instead.

“We’re planning on how we can keep building the brand, to let people know more about us and getting back into the community again through performance camps and workshops,” added the 43 year-old.

“It was tough doing that last year but the players and the staff did a great job on social media, using that virtual platform to engage with people.

“The girls embraced TikTok as a way of expressing themselves - I got roped into one too. I thought I could say ‘no’ but I would just have looked like a ridiculous spoilsport! It was just a different way to connect with each other and the outside community.”

A degree of normality ought to return next season. Sirens are planning to return to the Emirates in front of home fans, MacDonald will be back courtside and Atkinson will happily go back to her technical director role.

There will be, though, a greater level of expectation and Atkinson believes breaking into the top four should not be beyond them.

“It will hopefully go back to a more traditional format next season,” she added. “And hopefully crowds will be there if things continue to progress as they are.

“We want to get into the top four. It might not happen immediately but we want to keep the standards we’ve set and look to push on again.”