Monday 21 October 2019

David Kelly: 'Departure of Bell tolls ominously for women's game and cash-strapped FAI'


Colin Bell: His tenure was unfulfilled. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colin Bell: His tenure was unfulfilled. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Last Saturday in Galway's university grounds, the hosts' U-17 women's side waited for a 2pm kick-off against their visitors from Athlone Town.

And waited. And waited.

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Galway eventually kicked off but their challenge was literally met with no opposition; the away side hadn't shown up when the referee decided, at 2.15pm, to blow his first whistle of the day. Seconds later, he had tooted his second, and last, as Abbiegayle Roynane walked the uncontested ball into an empty net.

From what we have gleaned, it appears that a fixture change - the game was originally slated for the Sunday afternoon when the league was launched earlier this year - had flown under the radar.

Then again, much of what happens in women's football in this country already does.

Galway tweeted a video of the farcical events on their social media page but few bothered to look because, well, few bother to care even if the senior league is also on a mid-season break. But then, you probably didn't notice that either.

Except a few hours later, the sport was propelled on to our TV screens when the news of Colin Bell's departure as senior international manager departure was confirmed.

Bell managed to get his story into the public domain before the FAI could; ironically, he did so on the national channel during coverage of the most-watched FIFA Women's World Cup in history.

For the sport in Ireland, it was quite the jarring juxtaposition.

The positions of Bell and the FAI seem indisputable; however, one's interpretations of them might be.

The 57-year-old was offered a gig with Huddersfield, seemed tempted to relent if he and the FAI could unveil a grander vision for the game here, before the English club stepped back in again. At this stage, the FAI stepped back out.

Both sides may indeed have shared a grander vision and acquired some idea of its value - what divided them was how much they felt it was worth. Not to mention how much Bell felt he was worth which, according to some, might be generously over-stated.

In this instance, Bell clearly felt he and his grand plans were worth quite a lot more than the FAI were willing to pay.

Whether the FAI have that will - or more crucially the way - to maintain, never mind mature, the perilous state of the women's game in this country remains questionable as they remain mired beneath the yoke of ongoing financial and administrative constraints.

Many of the Irish public's first interaction with this Irish team would have been aroused by the quite spectacular crisis prompted two years ago by revelations that players shared tracksuits and changed clothes in airport toilets.

After a threatened strike, the senior side involved the Players' Union and their immediate concerns were addressed.

That same month, the FAI received an infamous bridging loan which, although still unexplained, has prompted far-reaching consequences that may not become clear for some time.

One thing is certain, however. Money, however much of it was sloshing around in the past, is too tight to mention in Abbotstown.

With the restoration of government funding looking less likely than at any time in recent months, quite how the FAI can sustain any vision for the future of the women's game seems unclear, regardless of what man - or woman - is at the helm.

Few may have quibbled with Bell's ideas but not many were enthusiastic about his genuine commitment to them.

Postponements and horrendous mismatches continue to dog a national league, which has clearly stagnated since its inception eight years ago, but some involved in it claimed not to have experienced at first-hand Bell's self-professed vision.

And it is not clear whether his resignation as U-17 manager - announced in June to general indifference - was linked to the direction of his career or that of the women's game. His reign, coinciding with a positive spike of post-strike interest and decent results before petering out, was ultimately one that was unfulfilled.

The crisis currently engulfing them may mean they may not be able to afford to take advantage of this summer's explosion of interest in women's football.

The potential calamity for the sport here is that they cannot afford not to.

Irish Independent

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