Sinead Kissane: Recognition key in development of women's game
Cork City Women's FC forward Clare Shine was in her local shop in Douglas recently - it was the first time she was recognised by the woman behind the counter as a football player.
"I saw you on the pitch at Turner's Cross," the lady told Shine. "I didn't know you played".
A little recognition goes a long way. Last Friday night, Shine and her team-mates' achievement in reaching tomorrow's FAI Women's Cup Final was recognised by the club when they were brought on to the pitch at half-time of the men's game at Turner's Cross. "They were all standing up, cheering and singing songs," Shine, who has scored 17 goals this season, said. "It was kind of overwhelming. We weren't expecting that reception."
Tomorrow is the first time a women's and men's team from the same club will play on FAI Cup finals day.
Around 500 fans were at an open training session in Bishopstown last Sunday to watch the men's team train. The pitch was marked using the same dimensions as the Aviva Stadium which also helped the women as the open session was followed by their league game against Wexford Youths.
Some supporters stayed to watch them play. This may not seem like a big deal but, considering that the attendance for a Cork City WFC game is between 50 and 100 people, the extra support didn't go unappreciated.
It's the little things which go a long way to show inclusivity. City's rising star Johnny Dunleavy gave the women's squad a team-talk last Sunday - as did former player Valerie Mulcahy.
Cork City couldn't get both of the squads into the same hotel in Dublin tonight but they are both staying in the same chain, which gives the sense of equal treatment for all.
And, while the 12.0 kick-off for the women's final isn't as convenient as later in the day, the official Cork City club buses are all due to be at the Aviva Stadium for 11.30am to try and ensure as much support as possible.
"I don't think any other women's club could have that sort of support at the moment," said Cork City WFC chairperson Chris O'Mahony. "It's brilliant for our players. Every small bit helps."
The women's team at Wexford, Shelbourne, Galway and Cork are all affiliated with their respective senior men's team.
City are particularly showing the value of that inter-play this week and it begs the question of why - along with necessary support from the FAI - more League of Ireland clubs don't have a senior women's club affiliate.
This year has been a statement one for women's soccer here. The Republic of Ireland have won their opening two games in their 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign and their next match against the Netherlands in Nijmegen on November 28 is already a 12,000 sell-out.
The team showed courage when they stood up to the FAI earlier this year in order to improve their basic conditions.
"People are paying attention now," said Irish international Shine. "It's good we're getting the kind of recognition that we should be getting."
There is a growing trend of more women's teams standing up for themselves. Denmark went on strike and cancelled their World Cup qualifier against Sweden last month in protest over pay and conditions.
The Norwegian FA have set the standard by announcing that their women's national team will be paid the same as their men's side. Bravo.
The Irish domestic game has been let down by incidents like a league game between UCD Waves, who play Cork City WFC in tomorrow's final, and Kilkenny United being abandoned in September because a referee didn't show up.
"Yeah, it was an extremely frustrating day. We've gotten over it now and we're focused on new things. But it was one of those moments that would never happen in the men's league. That's the difference," said UCD Waves centre-back Emily Cahill.
"All the girls have made so many sacrifices so it's those things that make getting to the final so worth it. We do it for the love of the game".
The referee issue happened the same day over 46,000 attended the women's All-Ireland football finals in Croke Park. Around 1,500 were at the Aviva for last year's Women's Cup final - a stark reminder that women's soccer here is still very much in its infancy.
This weekend features probably the biggest 24 hours in the history of the women's domestic game with Wexford and Peamount United playing for the National League title this evening followed by tomorrow's final, which will be live on RTE 2.
"There's going to be a lot of talent on the pitch," added Cahill. "That's really important to get that out there, that it's going to be a great match".
Women's soccer here needs to be recognised in many ways. Watching or attending tomorrow's final are perhaps the best ways of all to give it the recognition it deserves.