IT IS perhaps fitting Gemma Hillier cites Jermain Defoe as her footballing “hero”.

While their paths are far from parallel, the diminutive pair both had two spells at Cherries, as well as prolific stints at Portsmouth.

Hillier is a Pompey legend, becoming the first female player inducted into the club’s hall of fame after her near 18-year spell at the club ended in 2017, having played almost 300 games.

Her path from there saw more time dedicated to her Team GB beach soccer commitments, as well as a spell teaching in Dubai, after her first Cherries spell was hampered by COVID-19.

But Hillier is now back and a key part of Cherries’ side, named captain at the start of the season.

She gets a crack at her old club this Sunday, when Portsmouth head to Ringwood to face Cherries at Long Lane in the Hampshire Senior Cup (2pm).

Bournemouth Echo: Gemma Hillier featured in Cherries' 4-0 win over Portishead at Vitality StadiumGemma Hillier featured in Cherries' 4-0 win over Portishead at Vitality Stadium (Image: Richard Crease)

Pompey’s stronghold on the trophy was lost last year. Having won it for 13 years in succession, they were knocked out by Cherries in the semi-finals.

Steve Cuss’s side eventually went on to win the trophy and now have been paired with Pompey at the second-round stage this year.

Both clubs have enjoyed brilliant starts to their National League campaigns. Cherries sit top of Division One South West with nine wins from nine, while Pompey, in the level above, lead the way with eight wins from nine.

Discussing the prospect of facing her old club, Hillier told the Daily Echo: “I’ve been a Pompey fan since I was four years old.

“I played for the club for 18 years. I’ve got a lot of friends that are still there, but at the end of the day, I play for Bournemouth now.

“I’m absolutely loving my time here, so the aim will be to go and beat them, like the club did last season in the Hampshire Cup.

“My hero during the Premier League days was Jermain Defoe, who also was massive at Bournemouth as well. He was my hero growing up.”

Bournemouth Echo: Jermain Defoe had two spells at CherriesJermain Defoe had two spells at Cherries (Image: Richard Crease)

Defoe scored 17 goals in 36 appearances for Pompey, either side of spells at Tottenham Hotspur.

For Cherries, he shone on loan as a teenager in the 2000-01 campaign, before returning to Dean Court in the top flight for a spell in 2017. In total, the former England international notched 23 goals in 64 appearances for Cherries.

Discussing Cherries’ start to the season, Hillier added: “We had a brilliant pre-season. We went on a training camp down to Devon.

“We’ve slowly been building the team with new faces, getting our fitness up, learning different tactics that the management and coaching team want us to implement into games.

“Come the start of the season, I don’t think we envisaged how well we would actually do, compared to how well we have done. As a squad we are so, so pleased.

“As a management and coaching team they’ve told us how well we’ve played.

“I think for Steve that’s hard, because he doesn’t like telling us how well we’ve played, because he likes to keep our feet on the ground!

“As a squad, we are overwhelmed with how well we’ve started this season.”

She added: “November and the start of December are massive games for us. (We had) the stadium game, then title contenders Exeter and I think the outcome of that game will have a big stronghold on what happens at the end of this season.”

Before returning to Cherries, Hillier was playing her football for Onyx FC.

“I moved to Dubai to become a teacher,” she explained.

“I wanted to experience a different culture and a different way of life. I certainly got that.

“When I got out there I wanted to find a club as soon as possible.

“I was at a PE teachers’ conference and a lady was presenting on women’s football, so I got talking to her. It was complete by chance that I ended up playing for the best team in the UAE and the only female fully-owned female team in the country.

“That was amazing to play for and really great to be a part of.”

Discussing her move back to Cherries, Hillier said: “I rung Steve a couple of weeks before pre-season started and he said ‘come down, train with us, see how it goes’.

“After the first session I think we both knew that I wanted to sign.

“It was my first option, to come back to Bournemouth.

“It’s such a great community club and everybody is very welcoming.

“The squad we’ve assembled this season is one of the best I’ve ever played with, so it’s really exciting.”