By Ger McCarthy
THE West Cork League’s decision to introduce Women’s seven-a-side league and cup competitions has proven a big success and bodes well for sport’s future development.
As Women’s South-West Regional Football Committee representative, John Buckley and the West Cork League committee’s decision to re-launch women’s soccer on Astro-turf playing surfaces has proven a wise move. Non-availability of grass pitches due to inclement weather is no longer an issue.
The Trojan work of the WCL fixtures secretary Eamonn Connolly’s (Drinagh Rangers) Trojan behind the scenes work has delivered regular matches and improving standards since the opening day of the new campaign.
‘In the past, the Women’s League was affected particularly badly due to the poor weather,’ Buckley said.
‘This time around, our decision to use astroturf pitches means there are no excuses for games not to be played. Clubs are a lot more organised ahead of their fixtures and as a result few, if any, games have been called off.
‘Special praise must go to our league’s fixtures secretary Eamonn Connolly, who has done an unbelievable amount of work in organising pitches and ensuring the league has run smoothly this year. Eamonn has also been understanding when teams struggled with getting players out at the start and given clubs enough time to get organised.’
The current West Cork League Women’s Sevens structure has Inter Kenmare sitting top of the table on maximum points after the opening two rounds. Beara United has entered two teams this term and they, along with Drinagh Rangers, Durrus and Lyre Rovers, will also compete in the newly introduced WCL Women’s Cup.
Inter Kenmare will take on Drinagh in the preliminary round of the cup and the winner of that encounter will face whoever emerges from Beara United B versus Durrus in the last four. Lyre Rovers will face Beara United in the competition’s other semi-final.
One of the clubs to benefit from the WCL’s Women’s 7’s competitions is Inter Kenmare. Surprisingly, there is no (women’s) senior league in Kerry so Kenmare has been part of the West Cork Women’s set-up for many years. Majella O’Sullivan and her fellow team mates are grateful for the opportunity but want to see the women’s game grow not just in West Cork but within their own county as well.
‘I am playing with Inter Kenmare since 2008 and we entered the West Cork League in 2013 becAuse at that stage, there was no soccer league in Kerry for us,’ O’Sullivan stated.
‘Starting a seven-a-side league was the right move to get interest going again. We have played two league games so far and everyone is thoroughly enjoying it. We, just like all the other teams, just want to play soccer. We had begun to start losing players around Christmas so this new league format suits us just fine at the moment.
‘It has allowed us the opportunity to bring in two 17-year-olds and give them plenty of playing time this season.’
Kenmare’s location means Inter have to travel long distances for some of their West Cork League fixtures but the move to an astroturf playing surface means a regular supply of matches.
‘Luckily for us, the Bantry astro is not far from Kenmare so that is a great venue to have for a good chunk of our games,’ O’Sullivan said.
‘To be fair, we travelled the length and breadth of West Cork every Sunday for six years when playing in the league so away trips don’t bother us that much really. At least with the astro pitches, you know where you every Sunday and the fact the game will be on no matter what the weather.
One of the main reasons the West Cork League was forced to rethink their promotion of women’s soccer was due to dwindling interest and player numbers. By researching how other leagues dealt with the same issue, the WCL now has a blueprint to rebuild a sport that is also seeing renewed interest at younger age groups.
‘The original West Cork Women’s League ran very successfully when we started it back around 2013,’ John Buckley said.
‘Unfortunately, numbers dwindled over the last few years and it was hard to form an outdoor 11-a-side league with so few clubs. ‘We looked to other leagues around the country and asked what they did to kick-start women’s soccer in their own particular region. In consultation with FAI, we came up with the idea of running a smaller-sized league on all-weather surfaces. This approach had proven successful in other areas and helped kick-start women’s soccer.
‘So the idea is that by playing seven-a-side league and cup competitions for a season or two, clubs with smaller playing numbers will still be able to compete and get regular games. Then, after a while, when interest increases and additional players join, other leagues have shown that it is possible to move to an 11-a-side format and build the women’s game from there.
‘In our first season alone, the West Cork League has welcomed a brand-new Durrus team to the division, including new players taking part for the first time.
That is one positive straight away and so we are just going to try and build on the numbers taking part over the coming seasons. Our main focus right now is to get as many women, irrespective of their age, that want to play soccer out playing. From there we want to grow the number of participating teams and hopefully launch an 11-a-side league in the next year or two.’
Encouragingly, this past season has also seen a surge of interest at schoolgirls’ league level with Skibbereen joining the Cork Schoolgirls’ League and proving more than a match for their opponents during an impressive debut campaign.
Ray Claffey (FAI) and Dan McCarthy (Togher Celtic) have facilitated multiple indoor schoolgirls futsal blitzes in Dunmanway Hall in conjunction with the West Cork Schoolboys League registrar Martina McSweeney (Bunratty United). This novel idea has proven hugely successful with an increasing number of players between the ages of 10 and 12 years representing Clonakilty AFC, Bantry Bay Rovers, Castlelack and Drinagh Rangers in a fun and friendly environment.
Away from West Cork, the FAI are continuing their attempts to grow women’s soccer across the Munster region and beyond by organising regular workshops and coaching courses. An FAI PDP Workshop presented by FAI high-performance director Ruud Dokter is taking place at Lakewood Athletic’s home ground on Monday, February 18th at 6.30pm. Anyone interested in attending should email [email protected] as soon as possible if they wish to attend.