'A lot of businesses just want to sponsor men'
Kylie Murphy has more reasons than most to want to win today's Continental Tyres FAI Cup final. Seven years ago a surgeon told her she would probably never play football again.
She has captained Wexford Youths ever since and today this season's League and Shield champions are looking to complete their second treble. Victory would also help exorcise the demons of their last Cup final, a 5-0 drubbing by Shelbourne in 2016.
"We had five cruciates (injuries) that year and I was suspended," she reflects. "I did the wrong thing. I was having a spat with a girl in Cork and she hit me a dig and unfortunately I pushed her back and I got caught, but I was very harshly done by. The referee said it was 'violent conduct' so I got a three-match ban. For pushing. To this day I'm absolutely livid about it. It's the only red card I ever received."
To double her anguish, Wexford had three league games left at the time but the third one was cancelled just a week before that Cup decider. So today's clash with Peamount holds special significance. Growing up in Graiguecullen, Murphy played underage Gaelic football for Laois and soccer with the local St Pat's boys' team until she hit the age barrier.
That meant she joined her first senior women's side, the factory team at Braun who played in the Wexford Leagues, at the tender age of 13.
She went on to win school All-Irelands in football and volleyball with St Leo's and played for Ireland's under 17s and under 19s but then, exhausted by a hectic cycle of training and playing for school, club and country, she quit competitive sport completely.
"It was nothing to do with boys or drinking or smoking, I just got overloaded and had enough of it all."
Two years later, women's football advocate John Flood, who managed Youths when the Women's National League began in 2011, persuaded her down to Ferrycarrig Park for a trial. "Sure the first kick of a ball and I was in love again."
Yet Murphy suffered a serious setback at the end of that first season, needing back surgery on a disc which prompted her surgeon to tell her she was very unlikely to play again. "I really thought my whole world was coming down because it had given me a new lease of life."
Exhaustive pre-hab and rehab saw her battle back within a year and, at 30, she remains the midfield cog in a Youths team who are one of the game's powerhouses.
This year's league title was their fourth in five years, on top of one FAI Cup, one League Cup and two Shields, all since 2011. In a nascent and Dublin-centric national league, how have they done that?
"We have probably held on to the biggest amount of players since the league started," she says, crediting the work ethic and loyalty that Flood instilled from the get-go. "John created something special within a core group. We are relentless, unwilling to give up no matter what, and a lot of us are seniors now."
Those include Edel Kennedy, Nicola Sinnott and international Rianna Jarrett, who has scored 29 goals this season but is an injury doubt today. Katrina Parrock, best known from Wexford camogie, joined two years ago and is "banging in goals now."
Youths also attract the best young talent in the south-east, like Emma Hansberry, Aisling Frawley, Kilkenny's Lolly Conlon and Lauren Dwyer from Carlow.
The women's domestic league, like its male counterpart, loses its top talent abroad and suffers that vicious cycle of poor funding, attendance and coverage, which is exacerbated by their gender. "You have to be OK with the fact that the senior men get preference on everything even though, in Wexford, we do come next which, for now, is a good start."
Sponsorship and finances fluctuate dramatically. Last season she got travel expenses but not for this one.
Every player has to find an individual sponsor - hers is actually a bouncy castle company owned by neighbour Eddie Brennan - but even that money is centrally pooled to cover team expenses. "It's the FAI's project to develop the league so players don't have to leave. We're a good bit away from that at the moment because there's not enough funding coming in," Murphy says, citing Youths' loss of Claire O'Riordan to a pro-contract with Bundesliga side MSV Duisburg mid-season.
"A lot of businesses just want to sponsor men. You'd be delighted to see our men getting it, but it's hard too when we're bringing in silverware but have to fund-raise for every single thing."
Training and travelling is a big commitment but she has a particularly understanding boss, working as a joiner in the family business Pat Murphy Kitchens.
"I was let go from a phone shop in town that was closing and was just hanging around and daddy said, 'There's a bit of sanding out there in the shed' and I just fell in love with it.
"Yes, I do get 'the stare' when I land to a job," she laughs. "But that's normal, not a lot of people have seen women in the trades. Once they realise I can do the job my gender doesn't matter."
That could be the perfect catch-phrase too for Irish women's soccer, where she sees progress, however slow.
"Soccer Republic on RTé did a nice piece on us last week, the longest I've ever seen on TV and at the start of the programme too, with the men's (league) winners - not just a tiny mention at the end."
Peamount only took one point of nine from Youths in this year's league and Murphy would settle for winning a cliff-hanger today for the sake of women's football.
"I genuinely feel the best two teams in the league are in the final which is fantastic because you want people to see the best. We want businesses and investors looking on today and saying, 'Jesus Christ, these girls can play!' because that's going to cause more interest for us, and for Peamount, and the whole National League."
Peamount United v Wexford Youths
RTé 2, 12.40
Sunday Indo Sport