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Women's National League Preview: Potential For A Huge Season Is There

Women's National League Preview: Potential For A Huge Season Is There
By John Dodge

2022 seems like a big year for the Women’s National League. The national team now legitimately has a national platform with RTÉ covering all qualifiers and, in the football world at least, the likes of Katie McCabe and Denise O'Sullivan are household names. Much like the men though, the challenge will be translating that goodwill into support for the game on a weekly basis.  Now under the auspices of the LOI, the league and FAI hierarchy can’t be accused of sitting on their hands. They’ve arranged for every game to be streamed live on LOI TV (for free) and TG4 will continue from last year’s debut by showing more games live on broadcast TV.

It isn’t all good news for the league though with several high-profile departures to the professional ranks in Britain since the start of last season. Women’s football isn’t covered by UEFA’s compensation rules though and the clubs here received nothing in return. Peamount United’s manager James O’Callaghan has led the calls for the league to go professional. If that is to happen, it will need to show sponsors and investors that there’s an audience for it.

As we said in the opening line, it seems like a big year.  On the field here’s what we can expect to see.

A three-way title race

13 November 2021; Shelbourne players celebrate with the SSE Airtricity Women's National League trophy following the SSE Airtricity Women's National League match between Shelbourne and Wexford Youths at Tolka Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Since the introduction of the WNL in 2011 only 3 clubs have won the league title: Raheny United/Shelbourne, Peamount United and Wexford Youths. These 3 clubs have also occupied the top 3 spots in each of the last 5 seasons. Shelbourne dramatically won the league on the final day of the season as Peamount slipped up at home to Galway while the Tolka Park side beat Wexford (leading Shels manager Noel King to needle Peamount’s Aine O’Gorman on RTE covering the national team).

Shels received a boost this week with Saoirse Noonan returning on loan from Durham WFC and she’ll join Jessica Ziu and Jessica Stapleton in a young attacking team that surprised most with their title win last year. In a league of youngsters, none have caught the eye quite as much as Wexford Youths' Ellen Molloy and it seems only her education will prevent her from joining the professional ranks soon. Last year was a bit of a transition year for Wexford with manager Tom Elmes leaving for the FAI mid-season but they finished strongly by winning the FAI Cup. Peamount will need to exorcise the ghosts of their last day collapse quickly but they have an experienced side who should fancy themselves to challenge again.

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Can any established club break into the top 3?

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Cork City are the only team to have played every season in the WNL (initially as Cork WFC) and not win the league. They won the FAI Cup in 2017 but haven’t kicked on, finishing last year in a disappointing 8th spot. As the club as a whole gets it’s act together again, we can expect the women’s side to improve. DLR Waves have come close to winning league and cups in recent times but haven’t been able to lift the silverware. They were 4th last year but are hopeful of breaking into the title race again.  Galway enter their 10th season in the league and have yet to make any headlines. They were 5th last year and a cup run may be a more achievable goal than a top 3 finish.

Will we see growth from the younger clubs?

1 March 2022; Eimear Carey during a Treaty United squad portraits session at University of Limerick in Limerick. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

A 5th year for senior football in Limerick was interrupted by the fall out from Limerick FC collapsing and the subsequent creation of Treaty United.  However they finished bottom of the league in 2022 and it could be a hard slog again this year. Athlone Town and Bohemians enter their 3rd year in the league and will look to kick on. Athlone ended 2021 in great form with only championship-chasing Peamount beating them in their last 5 games. Bohs showed remarkable improvement last season after finishing bottom in the 2020 season. They ended 2021 in 6th place and have added significantly to their squad for 2022.

Welcome to Sligo Rovers

After setting up underage teams on the women’s side, Sligo Rovers enter the WNL for the first time in 2022. Newcomers to the league invariably struggle but Rovers are talking about being in this long-term, so the pressure won’t be too high this year.  We’ve seen how the town and country back the club on the men’s side and if they can turn out for the women’s team, they’ll quickly become one of the biggest draws in the league.

The SSE Airtricity Women’s National League kicks off this weekend with Champions Shelbourne hosting Bohemians in Tolka Park at 2pm on Saturday. DLR Waves play Treaty United in the Belfield Bowl (4pm), Cork City host Galway in Turners Cross (5pm), Peamount welcome Sligo Rovers (5pm) while Athlone Town play Wexford Youths with a 7pm kick off to round out the day. All games are streamed live on www.loitv.ie

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SEE ALSO: 8 Things We Learned From Week Two Of The League Of Ireland

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