Ger McCarthy highlights the growth of women’s football in West Cork
AN increased number of participants competing in this season’s Irish Examiner West Cork Women’s League bodes well for the future expansion of the game across the entire region.
There’s little doubt that West Cork women’s adult and schoolgirls’ football has been on the wane in recent years but a new FAI nationwide initiative plus an infusion of emerging talent suggests a brighter future lies ahead for the sport.
Earlier this year, West Cork was selected by the FAI as one of the designated areas for a new ‘Live Your Goals’ campaign, which took place at Skibbereen AFC’s Baltimore Road ground.
Officially launched by FIFA at the 2011 Women’s World Cup finals, Live Your Goals is an ongoing worldwide campaign aimed at inspiring young girls and women to play football.
‘The key aim of the campaign is to ensure that football is the number one sport for females across the globe in terms of participation and popularity,’ said FAI National Coordinator for women’s football, Emma Martin.
‘We (the FAI) came to West Cork because it is a huge region and we are determined to rebuild underage structures so that women’s football has a long-term future. As an association, we simply want to reenergise young girls’ interest in the sport and get them actively involved with clubs from their local area.’
The FAI’s Live Your Goals proved a hugely successful event, so much so that the WCSL’s Emerging Talent Programme decided to expand its growing numbers to incorporate a schoolgirls’ squad for the coming year.
Yet, would a successful FAI initiative plus a new Emerging Talent Programme for schoolgirl footballers make any difference to the West Cork adult set-up?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Following successive years of round-robin mini-leagues, the 2016-17’ Irish Examiner West Cork Women’s League will have seven clubs competing for the league and cup honours.
Drinagh Rangers (reigning champions), Beara United, Kilmichael Rovers and Bunratty United are joined by Inter Kenmare, Bantry Bay Rovers and Dunmanway Town with this season’s newcomers already breathing new life into a previously stagnant setup.
Bantry Bay Rovers are one of the best-known clubs in the region and the addition of a women’s team underlines the dedicated work being carried out both on and off the pitch in Kealkil, something Deirdre O’Donovan and her teammates are hoping to capitalise on.
‘I would estimate that Bay Rovers has not competed at ladies’ league level in West Cork for well over a decade,’ O’Donovan commented.
‘A large number of female enthusiasts were anxious to get involved with the West Cork League once again. We felt there was an opportunity to put a decent squad together considering the amount of Bay Rovers teams being fielded at schoolboys and junior (men’s) level. Why not a women’s team as well?’
Kerry-based club Inter Kenmare makes a welcome return to this season’s WCL women’s set-up and are determined to play a major role in the revamped league.
‘Inter Kenmare are delighted to be back and are hoping to build on the expanded set-up in West Cork,’ stated Kenmare’s Majella O’Sullivan.
‘There are seven teams taking part this year which is fantastic and we are hoping to use the opportunity to get more people, especially younger players, involved with Inter Kenmare.
‘One of the few trophies to evade our grasp is the West Cork Women’s League title. We have won Kerry league championships and even Munster Juniors cups but never the big one from this region so we are really looking forward to the new campaign.’
GOS Auto Accessories (Macroom) Cup holders Kilmichael Rovers are another club benefiting from a resurgence of interest throughout their local area.
‘We have 30 registered players in our squad for the coming season compared to only 13 or 14 over the past few years so the future is definitely looking bright,’ stated Kilmichael Rovers club stalwart Niamh Cotter.
‘Last year there were only four teams involved so I believe having an expanded division is brilliant news for West Cork women’s football.
‘Beating Beara on penalties to win last season’s cup final was absolutely fantastic for the club and surrounding community. There aren’t too many sports for young girls to get involved in living in a rural area like ours, so seeing Kilmichael win a trophy was a massive boost and will hopefully encourage more girls to take up football in the next couple of years.’
Speaking of Beara United, last season’s cup runners-up are another West Cork women’s club delighted at the prospect of welcoming a host of new players onto an already talented squad.
‘An increase in the number of teams is definitely a bonus for women’s soccer in West Cork and Beara will hopefully benefit from the extra competition,’ commented United’s Claire Power.
‘This is the first time in many years that Beara has the opportunity to welcome some new, young players into our squad. We also have some experienced players returning from injury and others coming back having taken time off so Beara will have a much bigger panel to choose from in 2016-17.
‘Getting to last season’s cup final showed what we are capable of but what is far more important is demonstrating to the younger female players from around Castletownbere just what can be achieved by being part of our club.
‘Being from such a rural area means we won’t have any players transferring in so it is very much a home-grown set-up. I have been involved since we first began seven years ago and looking ahead, we are aiming to get back into another cup final and hopefully a different result this time around!’
There is still much work to do be done, especially at schoolgirls’ level where young female footballers are permitted to compete within their equivalent schoolboys’ leagues but not as standalone teams.
Yet the signs are positive as increased numbers at adult level, a developing ETP squad plus the FAI’s increased commitment suggesting West Cork women’s football is set to make a big impact in the coming years.