England’s Euro 2022 win and Ireland’s World Cup dreams offer chance to tap into Women’s National League potential


The Euro 2022 decider’s attendance of 87,192 was the largest ever for a European final and comes after a world record 91,600 fans watching El Clasico in April.

At home, tickets for Ireland’s decisive World Cup qualifier in Tallaght on September 1 sold out in less than 12 hours.

3

England won the Euro 2022 title against Germany in front of a record crowdCredit: Getty

There is no doubt that women’s football is rapidly growing in popularity, and that extends to the Women’s National League in Ireland.

But the league, and women’s football in general, still have largely untapped potential according to Wexford Youths former coach, administrator and FAI scout John Flood.

He told SunSport: “If we don’t build on potential, all that’s left is potential. And we’ve been talking about potential for many years.

“We have a great record at international level at Under-17 and Under-19 level, and we’re starting to see that with the senior team.

St. Pat's v Shelbourne OFF with Tim Clancy's men stuck in Bulgaria after ECL win
Promise Omochere faces month after fracturing eye socket in Fleetwood debut

“And the league has also made great progress.

“When I think of some of the installations from the past, we are in a much better situation.

“The people involved are also brilliant. There is a lot of experience in women’s football and there are a lot of good ideas.

“It’s about marrying them off for something that suits Ireland.”

Flood is in a position where he hopes to have influence as a member of the FAI’s National League Committee as well as the new Women’s Strategic Committee.

But he knows that there is no miracle solution. SunSport has reached out to a variety of people for their thoughts on how the Euros can benefit Ireland and what improvements are needed, particularly around the WNL and the top flight.

Some spoke on the disc while others spoke to us in the background.
And while there was a consensus that things got better, it was also that there was more to do – with how to attract fans, raise standards and improve the base, all referenced.

QUID FOR THE PROS

According to Cork City academy manager Jess Lawton, there needs to be a serious discussion about the WNL going semi-professional.

She said: “I remember someone once used that term about something different: ‘We’re expecting a champagne delivery on a Bulmers budget.’ It’s true of that.

“We treat the players like professionals and expect them to be professional. But you have to invest to get something out of it.

“If it was semi-professional, when players move on, there would be costs that could be invested in developing more players, like we see in men’s football. I think you have to get to the stage where everybody’s semi-professional It’s not good if Shels does it but Cork doesn’t, for example, so he’s going to need some direction and support from the FAI He’s come a long way and we must also appreciate it.

“But there comes a time when we have to move on. It’s around the corner if you haven’t already.

There needs to be a serious discussion about the WNL going semi-professional.

3

There needs to be a serious discussion about the WNL going semi-professional.1 credit

Flood also highlighted the importance of investment and the need for men’s clubs to think long-term about the women’s game to get a return on investment.

And another actor also pointed to the costs involved where, even in the English WSL, women’s sections are often subsidized by their male counterparts.

How that changes increases revenue, which means bigger sponsorship deals and more fans.

Niamh O’Mahony, COO of Football Supporters Europe and member of the National League Committee, said: “It’s a chicken and egg situation.

“You need mobs to increase income, but to increase income you need mobs.

“At Wembley last Sunday you could see the crowd with lots of young girls, families and the LBGTQ community. Women’s football is very inclusive.

“But I would say the men’s game could look at that and say ‘Can we be more inclusive? “”

AUDIENCE GROWTH

O’Mahony mentioned how the ball girls at a recent Cork City game took the initiative to compose their own chants to start.

But as a regular in men’s matches too, she knows there is more to do and highlighted how Shelbourne fans attended the FAI Women’s Cup final last year.

She added: “Football fans love football and want to watch as much of it as possible, so it’s about attracting everyone who loves football with good facilities and making it enjoyable.

Lawton said: “At Wembley there were three guys ahead of me who I would describe as typical of what you would expect in a men’s game. They were singing and shouting and it added up. Wembley was the best atmosphere I’ve been in for a women’s game.

“The women’s game can learn from the men’s game, just as the men’s game can learn from the women’s game. There was a sign at Wembley, ‘Women play football, not women’s football’. It’s a very good message, football fans love football so it’s the same.”

Sligo Rovers celebrate after beating Shelbourne at Showgrounds

3

Sligo Rovers celebrate after beating Shelbourne at Showgrounds1 credit

And Flood thinks it’s only a matter of time before League of Ireland fans go back and forth on the Saturdays their Women’s National League teams play.

He said: “We already have young boys coming to games. You look around Europe and there are a lot of women going to men’s games and men going to women’s games.

“The fact that the players are now recognizable is definitely a plus. But RTÉ also has some great people, like Karen Duggan, analyzing the games. The easy answer for improvements is to say the investment because it’s always a problem, but it is also a question of opportunity.

“It’s long overdue, but we’re starting to see that, where there are opportunities for coaches, men and women, players and other areas.”

Lawton believes training opportunities will be key, saying it will be important to keep the players in the game when they stop playing.

Flood also considers this necessary. He said: “You have to treat the Under-10 manager the same as the manager who won the World Cup. Because both are so important.

“Give them respect and they will stay involved, which is something we absolutely need. And remember, the vast majority of people in football are volunteers doing it.

FROM THE GROUND

And he thinks the game needs to grow from the bottom up.

He added: “This is the base. We must respond to every woman who wants to play, not by measuring her abilities, but by what she wants to be, to achieve what she wants.

“But it’s also about giving that opportunity to those who want to step up to the next level. And that also goes for coaches, men and women.

“But some girls just want to play with their friends, and they’re just as important. People stick to things they like, so it’s important that they like it.

Heartbreaking tributes pour in as actress Caitriona Balfe's father Jim dies suddenly
Dunnes Stores fans are ready to go wild over the Gucci knit top that's £775 cheaper

“What is success if you are an Under-10 coach?

“It’s starting a season with 15 players and ending a season with 15, because they all enjoyed it.”

Previous Race to save the lost beluga in the Seine in France
Next Obituary of Sister Helen Dolores Hart