Women’s football has begun to thrive in Ireland and with it, the FAI's Women’s National League (WNL) is building momentum.
With the competition set to begin in early March, teams within the Women’s National League are preparing to take their shot at glory on the pitch. Last summer's World Cup was a shot in the arm for women's football in Ireland. The winter transfer window has seen WNL players like Tara O'Hanlon make the move to high-profile clubs. Those who once played in the league rise to unprecedented heights in England, Scotland and more.
The year 2023 has brought the visibility of Irish women’s football into question. Due to the success of Irish players on the international stage, many believe that more should be done on the home front to ensure the complete professionalisation of Irish women’s football in the WNL.
This sentiment is felt most prevalently amongst coaches and players within the league.
Ciaran Kilduff: 'the league is doing their best but they need more'
Athlone Town manager Ciaran Kilduff had a successful maiden season in the midlands. Athlone Town AFC were crowned WFAI champions when they triumphed against Shelbourne 4-3 in penalties back in November 2023.
Kilduff hopes to build on last year’s success this season. Speaking to Balls.ie at the WNL media launch event, he said:
“We’re in a good place obviously, the season ended very well for us, we got the WFAI cup and then obviously finished the league campaign very well as well.”
So we can probably try to carry on where we left off but look, we’ve obviously lost 1 or 2 and brought in 2 or 3 players as well. So we’re still probably a work in progress with a bit to go, probably to catch up with the teams, we finished 17 points behind Peamount in the league and we’re trying to close that gap the best we can.”
“But I think we’re working hard, the club has obviously backed us very well for the season, the players are back training hard so yeah we’re in good shape for the first week of February, we’re ticking along okay.”
Even though their November win was a moment for celebration, the club's Director of Football Michael O’Connor used the victory as an opportunity to voice his concern over the state of the public perception of women’s football by governing bodies.
As @AthloneTownAFC celebrate the capture of the @FAIWomen’s Cup, the club’s first senior cup in a century, their Director of Football Michael O’Connor discusses the challenges faced by League of Ireland clubs to keep their operations afloat without adequate supports from the… pic.twitter.com/lbregj0AH8
— FinalWhistle.ie (@FinalWhistleIE) November 19, 2023
O’Connor told FinalWhistle.ie:
“We have athletes coming through, these are not just girls kicking a ball they’re athletes, they give up their time three times a week to train, play, our underage has to be funded by them or their parents.”
“And we have great representative on the Irish underage teams that are quite successful, but no funding from the government to the League of Ireland”.
Kilduff expressed support for the words of his counterpart.
“I think Michael used the opportunity to voice his concerns and I think it probably struck a chord with a lot of people. Listen, men or women in this country, we’re always looking for more for soccer, it’s the biggest sport in the world and we want it to be back and I just think now, I’ve said it enough times, I think the league is doing their best but they probably need more.”
Kilduff went on to say, “I think Michael’s biggest right was the government intervention of it and trying to get more funding because I think that the term they used was ‘drowning’. It’s easy for me, I’m on the training pitch, I don’t know the logistics or the reality of the budgets and stuff behind there, or how expensive it is to run both the men and the women’s teams. But listen, we’re always going to look for more for our players, being me as a manager, my job is to pick the team, I don’t really go into that area but you can see as a whole that the league needs more and hopefully slowly but surely we’re getting there.”
Áine O’Gorman on professionalism in the Irish women's game
Another person that has spent her career fighting for the professionalisation of women’s football is former Ireland international and current Shamrock Rovers player, Áine O’Gorman.
With the English Women’s Super League (WSL) having recently become fully professional as well as O’Gorman’s Shamrock Rovers, she plans to push professionalisation to be the case for all Irish clubs within the WNL.
“I think it’s obviously great that Shamrock Rovers is a professional club now and I’d really like to see more clubs follow suit. I hope the appetite’s out there for it and that the FAI continue to push that standard”, she told Balls.ie at the LOI launch event.
O’Gorman notably retired from international football in 2023 following Ireland’s debut in the World Cup, but her career isn’t over just yet. She explained what’s in store for her at Rovers.
— Shamrock Rovers Women (@RoversWomen) September 23, 2023
“I just took a step back, it obviously wasn’t an easy decision but I went out on a high after the World Cup so yeah I’m just fully focused now on giving my all to club football this season and obviously trying to help the younger players through. Yeah that’s where it’s at, after football hopefully I’ll be able to give back in a coaching capacity.”
Both O’Gorman and Kilduff show that women’s football, while not completely funded or professionalised in Ireland, is a serious consideration and will have to be properly established given the undeniable talent that has been coming out of the WNL in recent years.