Irish women's soccer team will inspire a generation of young Cork players

Leesiders Denise O'Sullivan and Megan Connolly are vital cogs in the team on the brink of reaching a first World Cup
Irish women's soccer team will inspire a generation of young Cork players

Cork's Denise O'Sullivan of Republic of Ireland with former Lord Mayor of Cork Tony Fitzgerald after the win last week. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

LAST Thursday evening the entire country got a huge lift as the Irish international women’s team secured a play-off spot for the FIFA 2023 World Cup on a 1-0 scoreline thanks to Lily Agg’s second half header at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin.

With more girls getting involved in football than ever before, the Football Association of Ireland is working to build on what has already been an encouraging year for women’s and girls’ football.

The visibility of the female game has reached new heights thanks to the sponsorship of Sky Ireland, whose support of the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team can be seen on a national level, from billboard posters, TV adverts, social media campaigns, bus shelters and giant digital banners at Dublin Airport.

Cadbury Ireland have given tremendous support to the growth of the grassroots game and they recently launched their ‘The Game is On’ campaign that aims to drive more interest in grassroots clubs — whether that is through having more members, more supporters watching matches or recruiting volunteers.

The excitement around last Thursday’s 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup win over Finland follows on from the positive number of girls taking part in football all around the country.

It has been a record year, to date, with girls’ participation on key introductory programmes.

Over 7,000 girls took part in the Intersport Elverys FAI Summer Soccer Schools; 3,500 girls were involved in the Aviva Soccer Sisters Easter Camps; UEFA Disney Playmakers catered for over 1,650 girls while a whopping 25,000 took part in the Spar FAI Primary 5s.

The National League has been another huge incentive for girls to take up the game. It’s a great level for young girls to play where they get to play with and against quality players on a regular basis.

This along with the success of the Euros has been key to the increased participation of girls playing football and long may it continue.

Republic of Ireland WNT manager Vera Pauw said was full of praise for the work being done at grassroots level.

“The lifeblood of the game is at grassroots level with clubs and leagues — that is where the enjoyment of playing football is first experienced and where the development of players starts.

It is fantastic to see the progress being made with women’s and girls’ football in Ireland but we need to keep it going.

“I recently visited Swords Celtic and I was so impressed by what they have done in such a short space of time.

“The committee, coaches, volunteers, and, especially Sandra Harvey, deserve so much credit for the giant leaps from having four girls in 2018 to 140 this year, including over 100 girls participating in the FAI Summer Soccer Schools camps.

It is the type of progression that is happening all around the country. It is really important to work closely with the grassroots clubs and leagues to continue this development. 

"And I want to say a big thank you to all of the FAI staff who have done unbelieveable work in this area.

“Without the development of the grassroots game, we would not have a strong international team.”

Ireland’s Amber Barrett and Megan Connolly celebrate after the game last Thursday at Tallaght Stadium. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Ireland’s Amber Barrett and Megan Connolly celebrate after the game last Thursday at Tallaght Stadium. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Ger McDermott, FAI grassroots director, said: “A lot of fantastic work has been done in the development of women’s and girls’ football and there is no sign of it slowing down.

“In fact, more resources will be made available as we continue to plan ahead for an area of the game that is a key pillar in the 2022-2025 FAI Strategy.

“A great example of the impact that we are seeing would be Baldoyle United, who have made significant strides in the growth of girls’ football.

“Through programmes like UEFA Disney Playmakers and with the help of FAI development officer Sharon Boyle, the club has been able to cater for more girls in their local community and put structures in place for them to develop further.

“We are seeing more girls than ever before getting involved in football and through the excellent work of our dedicated staff and volunteers, we are putting in place a pathway to ensure that every girl, no matter their skill level, can continue to enjoy playing football.

“The support of FAI sponsors, such as AVIVA, SPAR, Cadbury and Sky Ireland, has enabled us to grow our programmes and we are linking up with local authorities, clubs and leagues to provide the best possible environment for girls at all ages.”

The FAI Club Mark Programme has played a part in this development by assisting clubs — with 22 clubs having started a female section since registering, while another 18 have grown their number of female teams and volunteers.

There are also more women getting involved in coach education with 230 female participants currently on courses, from PDP1 up to UEFA C Licence level.

This is a key area in moving the female game forward with more female coaches now at grassroots clubs than ever before.

Planning for 2023 is already underway and the input from the Women’s Strategic Committee will be an important part of that as the FAI works hard to ensure that the female game continues to grow and develop.

This is so refreshing to see.

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