Bantry soccer club focus on recruiting more female players of all ages

Bantry soccer club focus on recruiting more female players of all ages
The Bantry Bay Rovers and Drinagh Rangers West Cork Schoolgirls squad (including Donal McGrath, back row, far right) that competed in the 2019 Rose Bowl one-day soccer tournament at Mounthawk Park in Tralee.

WEST Cork Schoolboys League club Bantry Bay Rovers has produced a new Action Plan to increase female participation in 2020 and beyond.

Based in Kealkill near Bantry, Bay Rovers is synonymous with producing a steady stream of quality footballers from within their vibrant Youth Academy. This past year, the WCSL club’s U14s reached the latter stages of the 2019-20 SFAI Skechers U14 National Cup and secured a glamour tie away to League of Ireland Academy side Shamrock Rovers in Dublin.

Yet, it is the surge in interest from the Bantry area’s female population that has prompted Bay Rovers’ committee to develop and publish an action plan for the immediate future.

Granted, the Covid-19 outbreak has meant a complete halt to all footballing activities throughout the country. Irrespective of when the document is acted upon, Bantry Bay’s Action Plan is a positive step forward when it comes to treating female members on an equal footing alongside their male counterparts.

The Action Plan states that the club must strive to ensure that all girls have an opportunity to play football at a level that suits their ability and helps their development. The document goes even further by adding Bantry Bay will look to promote opportunities for female coaches and an overall aim to increase the ratio of female and male players (and coaches) to 50:50.

Newly-elected club chairman Donal McGrath has been heavily involved with Bantry Bay Rovers and Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí underage teams for many years. The English and History secondary school teacher is clear on what he expects the club’s ambitious plan will deliver.

“The idea behind our Action Plan is for our club to move as close as possible to a 50/50 split of male and female involvement within Bantry Bay Rovers over the next three years,” McGrath commented to the Echo.

“The rationale behind putting the document together is simply down to demand. I am involved in our summer soccer camps and seen a huge amount of girls signing up in recent times.

“Also, just as many parents have been coming up to club members and asking is there any way of developing girls teams and getting more girls involved.

“We are looking at the participation of everyone in the community but close to 50% of people living in the local area are female. So, as a club, we feel we have to be as integrated as possible and encourage as many coaching and education opportunities for our players and coaches.

“There are a huge amount of girls aged seven and eight coming through the gates of Bantry Bay Rovers right now who I believe should be considered as players and not ‘female players’.

“We must make sure that there are enough opportunities for everyone signing up to play games representing our club at an appropriate level. It is all about participation so we have to make sure those players have fun and enjoy the experience of lining out for Bantry Bay Rovers, whatever their ability.”

The Bantry Bay Rovers squad that claimed the 2020 Lake House Beauty Rooms Women's 7s Shield in West Cork at the expense of Aultagh Celtic last week.
The Bantry Bay Rovers squad that claimed the 2020 Lake House Beauty Rooms Women's 7s Shield in West Cork at the expense of Aultagh Celtic last week.

Refreshingly, Bantry Bay’s Action Plan does not shy away from outlining the challenges it will face in achieving the targets set out in their document. The club will be encouraging new coaches and especially females coaches to join. Bantry Bay’s overarching aim is that they will become a regional hub across all age grades that (eventually) contribute to a highly-competitive county-wide league.

“Coaching education is going to be absolutely fundamental to Bantry Bay Rovers achieving our targets,” Donal McGrath admitted.

“On that subject, the FAI’s Niall O’Regan has been absolutely fantastic to us. As an example, in the school where I work, Bantry Bay Rovers created an outreach programme for Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí transition year students who wished to volunteer and get involved with our club.

“The Gaisce Award is another example where our programme volunteers got to work with and coach our underage players between 7 and 11 years of age. That allowed Bantry Bay Rovers to sign off on the voluntary element of those volunteers’ Gaisce Award.”

Once Covid-19 clears, the Kealkil club will immediately return to implementing their ambitious ideas. Donal McGrath and his current Bantry Bay committee will be pivotal to completing the tasks outlined in their Action Plan. The Chairman took time to pay tribute to two other individuals who blazed a trail on behalf of women’s football in West Cork.

“It would be remiss of me not to mention Bantry Bay Rovers stalwart Teri Cronin who was a pioneer of women’s football a long time before any of the rest of us first got involved,” McGrath said.

“A word too for former WCSL Registrar and women’s football advocate Martina McSweeney from Schull. Everyone should recognise Martina and Teri’s contributions and the hard work they put into promoting women’s football at a time when it wasn’t necessarily fashionable. They led by example and deserve huge amounts of credit.

“Hopefully, our initiative will be a success when we see a huge number of girls actively training and playing for Bantry Bay Rovers. Someday, we hope to produce individuals who get to play at the highest possible level as well as an increase in the number of female coaches and administrators.

“The ideal scenario would be that, in time, there are enough qualified female coaches and administrators available to step in when the likes of myself and others are no longer needed within our section of the club.”

Hopefully, our initiative will be a success when we see a huge number of girls actively training and playing for Bantry Bay Rovers.

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