Saturday 22 July 2017

Strike averted but fearless women won’t back down

Members of the Republic of Ireland's women's squad take part in squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Members of the Republic of Ireland's women's squad take part in squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

John Fallon

As the dust settled following a long night of negotiations, Ireland's women's team undertook their first training session of the week with their conditions and pride intact.

Vindication was the overwhelming emotion amongst the squad as the limbered up, fully sure that their unprecedented actions during the previous 48 hours constituted a watershed for football in this country.

That it took a group of brave women to become the trailblazers in standing up to shabby treatment by the FAI is an indictment on the various other strands in the game prepared to tolerate the status quo.

At the Clarion Hotel in Liffey Valley on Wednesday night, it took nine hours for a settlement to be reached but that's manageable when you've been waiting two years for an ounce of respect to be demonstrated.

Elements

The players headed for their beds at 4am, content to have secured the monetary elements such as a €300 match fee and recompense for unpaid leave from their day jobs.

No longer will they be sharing tracksuits with underage teams - avoiding what Ruud Dokter embarrassingly referred to as the "toilet issue" - and their new attire will be customised ladies leisurewear, just like how European nations with a professional conscience operate.

Most tellingly for the long-term, however, was the signature on the deal.

Read more: 'From a monetary point of view, they will be happy with what they got' - FAI and Ireland women's team 'come to successful conclusion'

For all the fuss the association made about refusing to deal directly with the Players Football Association of Ireland (PFAI), it was their governing body, SIPTU, who put their name to the settlement. Hence the reference to a landmark deal in their statement.

This was collective bargaining personified - a development closely watched by other disgruntled factions within the FAI seeking union recognition from their employers.

The FAI did all they could to save face by not naming the PFAI or SIPTU in their brief missive but reality dictated that the mediator, retired trade union leader Peter McLoone, channelled his business through both representative groups without all parties at any stage sharing the same room.

Finance director Eamon Breen led the negotiating team for the FAI, with John Delaney in regular contact from his UEFA hotel in Helsinki.

Although the demands from the players and their team were concise, concessions were slow in coming.

Frustrated with the lack of progress, the players threatened a walkout.

A contingency plan to elevate their plight to a wider public forum than Tuesday's Liberty Hall press conference loomed. Reaction from the opposite side was prompt, paving the way for the finer details to be closed out.

The players don't want to be ever forced into this position again yet, if they do, their union will do the bartering for them.

As captain and goalkeeper Emma Byrne insisted yesterday, the slog was just as important for the next generation as the current bunch.

Byrne has won over 130 caps, every honour in the game for Arsenal and doesn't need the hassle in the twilight of her career.

When she first aired the issues three years ago, her manager at the time Sue Ronan said she was disappointed.

Yesterday, the skipper not only earned a standing ovation from her team-mates but the admiration of James McClean and Katie Taylor for her persistence.

"Enough was enough because the situation was getting worse," insisted Byrne.

"Instead of improving as other nations around us were, players in the team had the distraction of worrying about losing wages."

Smiles returned to the faces of the players ahead of Monday's friendly against Slovakia but whether trust for the FAI does likewise is a different matter altogether.

Irish Independent

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