THE FAI League of Ireland director Mark Scanlon has admitted that a semi-professional Women’s National League is something the association is “striving towards”.
Its current amateur status has meant a number of talented young female footballers have left the league in order to pursue a professional career abroad with the Women’s Super League in England offering such an opportunity.
Cork City has also recently seen four rising stars agree transfers to America and speaking at the launch of the new season recently, Scanlon believes if the league keeps progressing in terms of support and investment, a semi-pro status will become more realistic.
“It’s something we would love to see,” said Scanlon.
“It has been a real welcome boost for the likes of our senior international players over the last few years to be able to go professional and focus full time on football.
"It’s something we will strive towards, it’s something we will continue to work on.
“There’s a real interest in the women’s game at the minute so the more fans get behind it, the more commercial partners get behind it, broadcasting partners get behind it and there’s investment in the league, then the more realistic that becomes.
“I think this year is significant especially with the commitment that SSE Airtricity has made to sponsoring the Women’s National League as well as the men’s, that’s a real step forward.
“We have seen the positivity that created around the launch and that was followed up with Bank of Ireland coming on board as associate sponsor across all the leagues as well.
“We have made our commitment clear to everybody that the Women’s National League is a key part of the League of Ireland structure and everything that we have done so far in the off-season has been about making sure that the leagues are put on par.
“There has been a huge growth in interest in the Women’s National League in general but also in the level of ability on the pitch as players continue to progress through the underage structures.
“We are keen to make sure our best home-based players are able to stay here and we can provide a pathway for players and hopefully work towards potentially semi-professional football in the future and bring a real industry around the league.
“The commercial sponsorships will help this year and the increased publicity with the streaming services are very welcome because the games we did steam last year, with Peamount and Shelbourne at the end of last season, was very well received with significant numbers of fans tuning in to watch it.
“And also the Cup Final on RTÉ so to be able to bring that to fans on a weekly basis throughout the season is something we are very excited about.”
Scanlon also addressed the issue surrounding last season’s Women’s FAI Cup final, which was a standalone fixture for the first time but was also played at Tallaght Stadium rather than the Aviva Stadium.
Many at Cork City were disappointed to miss out on the opportunity to return to the national stadium for the showpiece occasion and this year’s final is likely to be played in similar circumstances.
“It was hugely successful last year,” he added.
“I think it is much better for the Women’s Cup Final to be on a standalone day, making sure that we got a standalone broadcast on RTÉ and the audience then is more dedicated and focussed on watching that game as opposed to the two finals on the one day.
“The decisions made last year around that were out of my remit really, the league is my main focus and the cups is part of the WFC (Women’s Football Committee).
“The main focus last year was that the game took place where the Women’s National Team currently play and to give us a better opportunity to fill the stadium and create an atmosphere.
“Although it’s great to have the games take place in the Aviva Stadium.
“What we noticed from the Women’s Senior International games is as the attendances have increased so has the atmosphere and there has been a real sense of occasion around it and that’s something we are keen to do for the Cup Final as well.”