Inside, tickets for Ireland’s World Cup qualifying match in Tallaght on September 1 sold out in less than 12 hours.
There is no doubt that women’s football is rapidly gaining popularity, and this extends to the Women’s National League in Ireland.
But the league, and women’s football in general, remains largely untapped according to John Flood, former Wexford Youth coach, administrator and FA scout.
He told SunSport, “If we don’t build on potential, everything is possible. And we’ve talked about potential for many years.”
“We have a great international record at U-17 and U19 level, and we’re starting to see it with the first team.
“The league has made great strides, too.
“When I think about some of the facilities from the past, we are in a much better place.
“The people involved are brilliant too. There is a lot of experience in the women’s game, and there are a lot of good ideas.
“It’s about marrying them for something that suits Ireland.”
Flood is in a position he hopes will make an impact as a member of the National Football League Committee as well as the newly formed Women’s Strategic Committee.
But he knows there is not a single silver bullet. SunSport contacted a variety of people to get views on how Ireland could benefit from the eurozone and the improvements needed, especially about WNL and the top tier.
Some spoke solemnly while others spoke to us in the background.
And while there was consensus that things had improved, there was also more work to be done – in terms of how to attract fans, raise standards and improve the grassroots all referred to.
QUID FOR PROS
According to Cork City Academy Director Jess Lawton, there should be serious discussion about WNL turning into a semi-pro.
“I remember someone used that term before about something different,” she said, “expecting champagne delivery from the Bulmers budget.” That’s right.
“We treat the players as professionals and we expect them to be professionals. But you need to invest to get something out of it.
“If it’s semi-pro, then when players move there will be fees that can be invested in developing more players, as we see in the men’s game. I think we have to get to a point where everyone is semi-pro. It’s not a good idea for Shels to do that but Cork Don’t do that, for example.So you’ll need FAI’s guidance and support.It’s come a long way and we should appreciate that too.
“But there is time for us to move forward. It is around the corner if he is not here already.”
Flood also highlighted the importance of investing, and the need for men’s clubs to think long-term in the women’s game to get a return on investment.
Another stakeholder also highlighted the costs involved, as women’s sections are often subsidized by their male counterparts, even in an English-language WSL.
The way it’s changing is more income, which means bigger sponsorship deals and more fans.
It’s a chicken-and-egg case,” said Nyama O’Mahony, Director of Operations at Supporters Football Europe and a member of the National League committee.
“You need crowds to increase revenue, but to increase revenue, you need crowds.
“At Wembley last Sunday you could see this crowd with a lot 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? ”
O’Mahony mentioned how the ball girls at a recent Cork City game took it upon themselves to create their own cheer for a start.
But as usual in the men’s matches too, she knows there is more that can be done and noted how Shelburne fans attended last year’s FA Women’s Cup final.
She added, “Football fans love football and want to watch as much of it as possible. So it’s about attracting anyone who loves football with good facilities and making it fun.”
Luton said: “At Wembley, there were three men in front of me that I can describe as typical of who you would expect in a men’s match. They were singing and shouting and added to that. Wembley was the best atmosphere I’ve had in a women’s match.
“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 banner at Wembley, ‘Women play football, not women’s football.’ It’s a really good message, football fans love football. So it’s the same.”
Flood believes it is only a matter of time before Irish fans make the return trips on Saturdays that their clothes play in the Women’s National League.
He said, “We’re really starting to get the little boys to the games. You look around Europe and there are a lot of females going to the men’s games, and the males going to the women’s games.
“Getting to know the players now is definitely an advantage. But there are also some excellent people at RTÉ, like Karen Duggan, who analyze games. The easy answer to improvements is to say investment because it’s always a problem, but it’s also about opportunity.
“It’s a lot late, but we’re starting to see that, as there are opportunities for coaches, male and female, players, and other areas.”
Lawton believes coaching opportunities will be key, arguing that keeping female players in the game when they stop playing will be important.
The Flood sees this as necessary as well. He said: “You have to treat an under-10 coach like the coach who won the World Cup. Because both are very important.
“Give them respect and they will stay involved, which is exactly what we need. And remember that the vast majority of people in football are volunteers who do that.”
From A to Z
He believes that the game should grow from the bottom up.
He added, “It’s all about the roots. We have to cater to every female who wants to play, not measuring them on ability, but on what she wants to be, to achieve what she wants.”
But it’s also about giving those who want to rise to the next level that opportunity. This is for coaches – male and female – too.
“But some girls just want to play with their friends, and they’re just as important. People stick to the things they love, so it’s important that they love them.”
What is success if you are a coach under 10?
“He starts a season with 15 players and ends the season with 15, because they had fun with that after that.”