Friday 19 January 2018

Work in women's football bearing fruit


While the 2-0 defeat to Finland certainly put a damper on things, there is no doubt that there were plenty of positives for Irish women's football out of events at Tallaght Stadium last Monday night where Ireland started their EURO 2017 qualifying campaign.

Before the game, there was the launch of the FAI's second strategic plan for women's football. The first was in 2006, and it certainly achieved its core objectives of raising participation numbers and standards.

Over the past nine years the number of registered women players has grown from 12,500 to 23,000 and the number of leagues has risen from 16 to 32. Over 22,000 girls have passed through the introductory Soccer Sisters programmes and the talent is starting to rise to the top.

Seven of the Irish squad on Monday night were part of the under 17 squad which reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women's under 17 World Cup in 2010 and won silver at the European Championships while the match marked the competitive debut, on her 20th birthday, of Katie McCabe, one of the stars of the under 19 team which reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2014.

The FAI has been working hard over the last two years to raise the profile of its women's national team and the crowd of 2,905 represented an 80 per cent increase on the 1,600 who turned out to see European champions Germany when they visited Tallaght during the recent World Cup campaign.

Ireland's women's cricket team were special guests on Monday and they received an enthusiastic ovation when they were introduced the crowd at half-time, which should give them a boost as they continue preparations for their Twenty20 World Cup qualifying campaign in Thailand in November.

PGA returns to Dundalk

The Low Fuel Card Irish PGA Championship returns to Dundalk Golf Club this week for only the third time in its 108-year history, and after a gap of 46 years, but the connection of the Cassidy family to the tournament will continue.

In 1953, when Harry Bradshaw was the winner, the professional at Dundalk was Jimmy Cassidy senior and he played in the event along with his brother John. In 1969, his son, Jimmy junior, had just replaced him as the professional at Dundalk and was part of the field for the tournament which was won by Jimmy Martin.

Fast forward to 2015 and the Tournament Director for the four-day event over the recently revamped and extremely challenging Dundalk course is Yvonne Cassidy, the daughter of Jimmy Cassidy junior, who is a former Irish amateur international player and was a professional on the Ladies European Tour, as well as a tournament referee.

This year's PGA Championship will feature 102 of Ireland's top professionals and will be the latest round in the gripping battle between Clontarf's Eamonn Brady and Waterville's David Higgins at the top of the Irish Region's Order of Merit.

Both weakened by split

As the Euro Qualifiers reach their conclusion over the coming weeks, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland can still make the tournament in France next year, with the latter much better placed to do so. Even so, both sides are far weaker than they were in previous decades with no sign of this changing any time soon. Which makes you wonder what it might be like if there was one all-Ireland team.

Both Irish teams have seen their fortunes dwindle on the international stage. Despite disagreements between the IFA and the FAI over the eligibility of Northern Ireland-born players such as James McClean and Darron Gibson representing the Republic of Ireland, recent years have seen more cordial relations between both associations. According to Cormac Moore, the author of a new book on the subject called The Irish Soccer Split, there has been, though, no clear overtures from either the FAI or the IFA to reconvene talks on unity in soccer. "This may change," he says. "With the internationalisation of the English Premier League, fewer Irish-born players are finding the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the top division in England. This trend looks set to continue for some time to come and with it the prospect of either Irish team maintaining competitiveness at international level. In turn, this may convince the administrators North and South to re-consider the option of one team representing the whole island yet again."

Interestingly, it was during the height of the Troubles in the 1970s and early 1980s that the last real attempts were made to bring about an all-Ireland international soccer team. A series of conferences were held between the FAI and the IFA from 1973 to 1980 that seriously explored this possibility.


That's the combined winning margin in the first 14 games of the Rugby World Cup last week, or an average of 24.5 points per game. Japan's shock win and Argentina's brave showing against the All Blacks aside, that's not much to be writing home about!

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