Cardiff City Women: From Craig Bellamy's shorts to Champions League return

Cardiff City Women defender Hannah Power still has a pair of Craig Bellamy's shorts. They were her shorts too.

Not so long ago, the Bluebirds' female team's kit was made up of the men's side's cast-offs.

As Cardiff City Women prepare for an away Champions League tie against Lithuanian side FC Gintra on Wednesday, 6 September (16:00 BST), Power says significant progress has been made since she first joined the club 12 years ago.

"It was so different back then," Power tells BBC Sport Wales.

"We had hand-me-down men's kit. I was wearing Craig Bellamy's shorts. The kit was hanging off us - it drowned us.

"But I am grateful we experienced that because you are so much more grateful for the moments we are experiencing now.

"To see where it's gone from then to now, it's a massive jump."

Craig Bellamy in action for Cardiff
Craig Bellamy spent the latter days of his playing career at Cardiff City

Cardiff City Women - not to be confused with Cardiff City Ladies, who play in the English football pyramid - have been in Lithuania since Monday, preparing for their first Champions League tie in a decade.

They are back in Europe's elite competition having won the Adran Premier last season - their first domestic league title since 2013 - as well as the FAW Women's Cup.

There was more good news for Iain Darbyshire's team as Cardiff became one of a handful of Adran Premier clubs to turn semi-professional over the summer.

"I think we have even more support from the club now and it's attracted better players to come and strengthen us," says Power.

"It's such a great moment for everyone and it's helping the women's game in Wales, making our league stronger. I am hoping this will drive us further."

As semi-professionals, Cardiff train as a squad three times a week, though players are expected to do gym and recovery sessions in their own time.

"It's basically a full-time job," Power says.

The schedule can be challenging given that many of Darbyshire's players work full time away from football.

Power, for example, is a teaching assistant at St Bernadette's Primary School in Pentywn.

Yet on the first day of term earlier this week, she was on the team flight to Lithuania.

"My head teacher is really understanding and supportive," Power says.

"It's crazy - you have to put in a holiday request to go and play in the Champions League. You wouldn't probably get that in the men's teams.

"But everyone's work has been really supportive. I think with women's football now, the employers understand how important it is for us to go and represent Cardiff City in the Champions League.

"A lot of us are taking unpaid leave to go, which is a shame, but it's just the way it is sometimes. It's an opportunity that none of us want to miss."

Power has made 205 appearances in two spells at Cardiff - she left for Cardiff City Ladies in 2013 before returning in 2015 - and featured in their only other Champions League campaign.

Ten years ago they finished bottom of a group which also featured SFK 2000 of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgarian side NSA Sofia and Turkey's Konak Belediyespor.

The format is different now, with the Gintra tie effectively a semi-final. The winners will face either Shelbourne or Glasgow City in Lithuania this Saturday, while the losers play a third-place play-off.

The overall victors progress to the second qualifying round, where a two-legged tie decides who reaches the group stages.

Welsh sides have struggled at this level, but Power says Cardiff feel ready after "probably the toughest pre-season we've ever had".

"Gintra are experienced in the Champions League and they are professional so they attract players from all around the world," Power says.

"But we have girls who have played for different teams in the Champions League, and there are a few of us who were here 10 years ago, so we know kind of what to expect.

"We are ready to compete."