Louise Quinn: 'We need to qualify for a major tournament as that would change everything in Ireland'
Arsenal defender determined Irish won't be on the outside looking in for the next women's World Cup
Arsenal and Ireland defender Louise Quinn believes Ireland are knocking on the door of a major breakthrough at international level, as she admits it will be painful to watch the start of the women's World Cup that will not feature the Girls in Green.
The 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off with hosts France taking on South Korea on Friday night, but Ireland are still striving to plot a route to a first major tournament after a series of near misses in recent years.
Colin Bell's Ireland team finished behind Norway and the Netherlands in qualifying for this summer's finals, but Quinn believes better organisation and planning combined with a rich pool of stars emerging through the Irish ranks, will help a national team currently ranked at No.31 by FIFA to take the next step and make an appearance in a high profile competition.
"I feel like we are getting closer, but we need to qualify for a major tournament as that would change everything for the women's game in Ireland," Quinn told independent.ie in an exclusive interview.
"Women's football has taken some huge strides in recent years, but we are behind England in many respects when you see the infrastructure that is in place around the game and big companies like Barclays coming in with £10m sponsorships deals for the top league.
"That kind of investment would have been unimaginable a few years ago, but it shows what's possible for the women's game and hopefully Ireland can tap into the momentum behind our sport in the next few years.
"To do that, we need to qualify for a big tournament and I feel like we are getting closer with our coach Colin Bell and a talented group of girls in the Ireland squad now.
"We have a tough Euro 2021 qualifying group that will include a strong Germany side, but we have to believe we can make that step§ and qualify for a major tournament.
"If we do that, we will see interest in the women's game rise in Ireland. We saw what happened with our hockey team when the Irish girls got to the World Cup final last summer and the media will give you the coverage if you do something to deserve it, so that has to be our target now.
"We also need to get into Irish schools and encourage girls to play the game because there is a path to have a career in football now, or just to enjoy it with your friends."
The eagerness of television companies in the UK and Ireland to deploy female pundits and presenters on their football coverage this season has been the subject of plenty of debate, with Quinn suggesting the prominence of Sky Sports analyst Alex Scott was a big moment for the women's game.
"It is all about acceptance," suggests Quinn. "As long as someone has the talent and knowledge to do the job, they should be given a chance to do it and I feel like Alex Scott and the other female pundits have gained respect after some resistance to start with.
"If it is a box ticking exercise and TV companies feel they need to put women on there just to keep everyone happy, that is not a good reason to have a female pundit. It should be a case of hiring the best person for the job.
"Alex (Scott) is a former team-mate of mine at Arsenal and I know how much work she puts into her preparation before she goes on screen and I've enjoyed watching her this season. I'm sure she felt like she needed to work harder to prove herself, but hopefully she has done that now.
"Having women on TV talking about football is important in changing a few perceptions and stereotypes, so hopefully it will help the game moving forward."
Finding a way to boost attendances for women's games remains a big issue, with Everton Women's Super League match against Birmingham Women played in front of an embarrassingly modest crowd of 103 people in April and a match between Liverpool Women and West Ham women drawing an audience of just 237 souls a month earlier.
There have been exceptions in recent months as high profile and hugely hyped major matches in Italy, England and Scotland have attracted record numbers and now the football world will get a chance to pass judgement on the women's game in a World Cup that will put the game on a platform like never before.
Ireland are outsiders looking in on the boom in women's football for now, but Quinn and her teammates are determined to change that.