Soccer

WNL: How It Started Vs How It’s Going

Teleporting back 10-years ago amongst Jedward at their peak on the Eurovision and President Obama’s visit to Moneygall, emerged the third commencement in the nation’s history of a women’s domestic soccer league.

While two previous attempts were formally made in 1973 and 1987 respectively, the current competition as it stands today officially launched in November of 2011.

The Women’s National League came into existence following the FAI’s ‘Women’s Development Plan‘ back in 2006, which aimed to promote football within the country, improve coaching standards and build on the 570 teams playing in the 31 regional leagues that were operational at that time.

With the Women’s Super League across the water in England having launched the year prior, the WNL began amidst a growing culture of excitement around women’s sport that had been a long time coming.

WNL Launch 2011, Republic of Ireland women’s manager Sue Ronan with Ciara Grant and Dora Gorman. Picture:David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Sponsored by Bus Éireann, the first ever Women’s National League first originated with six teams including Castlebar Celtic FC, Cork Women’s FC, Peamount United, Raheny United, Shamrock Rovers, and Wexford Youths Women’s AFC.

‘The Peas’ claimed the first title and also completed the double upon winning the WNL Cup that same year Peamount striker Sarah Lawlow picked up the Player of the Season award while Emma Hansberry picked up Young Player of the Year with Stephanie Roche securing the Top Goal-scorer honour.

Emma Hansberry, Castlebar Celtic presented with the Young Player of the Year award. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE.

The following year saw the DLR Waves enlist and Raheny triumph in the league, but the 2013/14 season saw the WNL garner major attention worldwide.

Stephanie Roche’s stunning long range shot for Peamount in a clash Vs Wexford Youths went viral thanks to footage recorded by her manager Eileen Gleeson and amassed the eyes of the globe.

Beside footballing royalty sat Robin Van Persie and James Rodriguez as Roche was among the trio of nominations for her entry in FIFA’s Goal of the Year Puskas award that year.

Finishing with 33% of the vote as runner up to Columbian Rodriguez, the Dublin footballer showed the world what onlookers had already known for years, women’s soccer was to be taken notice of and without doubt respected.

Roche at the Fifa awards. Picture- Valeriano Di Domenico/INPHO

Wexford Youths shook things up as they bagged four league titles consecutively starting in 2015, while in 2017 a structure change saw the games move to the summertime.

Peamount climbed back to the top in 2019 to win their first title since the inaugural season and in 2020 they repeated the feat back in November, after a 3-1 win over Shelbourne.

Peamount United 2020 Champions

Back in the present day headlines were made this year as SSE Airtricity contracted in a two-year deal for dual sponsorship of both the men’s and women’s leagues.

Speaking on the announcement FAI chief executive officer Jonathan Hill described it as testament to the future direction of our domestic game” as it “will come as no surprise to those who know how quickly our Women’s game is growing and how much growth is still to come, not just at the highest level but at every age group in Ireland.”

However, as bright as things appear it is commonly recognised that there appears to be a gap between intentions and realities when it comes to equity between genders with sport in Ireland.

With sponsorship opportunities not in as plentiful supply as with their male equivalents, football players in the WNL often have to pay a yearly contribution to their clubs ranging between €350 to €500, plus added travel and miscellaneous expenses just to represent their chosen team.

Wexford Youths

The same divergence can be witnessed with the prize money announced for this year’s Women’s National League. An increase of 141% to €50,000 in most regards is to be seen as phenomenal, but is quickly belittled when put next to the men’s €600,000 for their season champions.

As the league aims to continue to foster it’s home grown talent in an effort to grow the game, many of the Irish internationals people have come to know so well over recent years such as Katie McCabe, Louise Quinn and Rianna Jarrett (to name a few) have taken the decision to move abroad to pursue their careers on a bigger scale and a more professional standard.

Katie McCabe with Rianna Jarrett and Denise O'Sullivan ROI Vs Greece.

Even the spectacular Girls In Green suffer from the glass ceiling of the gender play gap as they are understood to earn €500 per appearance for Ireland, while the men’s figure stands around €2,500. This is despite the appetite being there for increased coverage of women’s football, as can be seen via the record crowd numbers at Irish international games pre Covid times and also viewing figures of the Women’s Super League in England.

Capitalising on the establishment of the streaming services due to restrictions last year, the FAI have reported that all matches including the WNL games are to be broadcast live on the League of Ireland TV (LOI TV) site for free, the first of which is to kick-off between Bohemians and Treaty United this weekend.

It seems although positive changes are continually being made, more still needs to be done to highlight the shortfalls more frequently and add catalyst to the advancements in parity that are being made for the betterment of our national league and women’s sport.
With the League’s 11th season about to get underway tomorrow, it promises to be as exciting as ever. Defending Champions Peamount United will be looking to make it three titles in three years but it might be a tough ask with Shelbourne and Wexford Youths hot on their heels.
 
As mentioned, all games streamed live for FREE on LOITV.

Series 1 – Saturday, March 27th
Athlone Town v Shelbourne
Athlone Town Stadium
KO 16:00
Referee: Declan Toland

Bohemians v Treaty United
Oscar Traynor Centre
KO 14:00
Referee: Sean Stephens

Galway WFC v Cork City
Eamonn Deacy Park
KO 16:00
Referee: Joe Hession

Wexford Youths v Peamount United
Ferrycarrig Park
KO 16:00
Referee: Claire Purcell

Series 1 – Saturday, March 27th
Athlone Town v Shelbourne
Athlone Town Stadium
KO 16:00
Referee: Declan Toland

Bohemians v Treaty United
Oscar Traynor Centre
KO 14:00
Referee: Sean Stephens

Galway WFC v Cork City
Eamonn Deacy Park
KO 16:00
Referee: Joe Hession

Wexford Youths v Peamount United
Ferrycarrig Park
KO 16:00
Referee: Claire Purcell

Season Fixture List

Alanna Cunnane

Alanna Cunnane is currently pursuing her studies in journalism and is an avid women in sport advocate, with a keen interest in all sports. Alanna writes for her local paper in Sligo and also reports for Ocean FM radio. Instagram: @acunnane | Twitter: @:ACunnane10 |

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