Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw says it is essential that quality players are spread evenly around the Women’s National League if domestic football is going to thrive.
In ten years of the domestic championship, just three clubs – champions Peamount United, Wexford Youths and Shelbourne – have won the title and constitute the current top three.
The dominance of the elite looks set to continue with last season’s runners-up Shelbourne completing the eye-catching signing of striker Saoirse Noonan from Cork City.
But Pauw, who signed a new two-year deal to manage the national team into the next World Cup, believes the league would be better served by the best players being spread around.
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Pauw was the key force behind the creation of the Dutch Eredivisie in 2007 and saw the league’s growth fuelled by a competitive balance across a growing number of clubs.
“If you look at how I developed the Eredivisie for the Netherlands, there was equal division of quality,” Pauw said upon signing the new deal.
“Within 10 days of me leaving, there was huge division and that has brought problems. If you look into my heart, I would love to have quality spread over all clubs in the country.
“I’ve not spoken to Saoirse or Shelbourne about [her move] but I have to ask: ‘is this a good thing?’
“We have a situation where the player wants to make the step up but it is another issue for the league. Let’s see how it turns out.
“It is not a demand of mine to join a top team to get into the Ireland squad. If you look into my development heart, it is not good for the League, so it is not good as a whole for development.”
The imbalance in the league is exemplified by the make-up of the home-based squad assembled by assistant boss Eileen Gleeson for two games over the past week.
Most of the players chosen came from the top three, and a couple from Galway and Cork City, while other clubs weren’t represented at all. The two games? Against Shelbourne and Peamount.
“We do plan every month a session like that and we’re going to plan regional home-based sessions, so the regional teams can play the other clubs.
“There are more from Shelbourne and Peamount because the players are going there, but it’s the very best players based in Ireland, a selection of 26 players.”
One of the key developments over the past 12 months has been extra financial support from the FAI that means league players no longer have to pay to play in the WNL.
For Pauw, it’s only the first step in ensuring that players have access elite-level training and facilities – and the eventual goal should be to partner with clubs in the men’s League of Ireland.
With the women’s game growing at a huge pace across Europe, there is a danger that Ireland’s domestic game could once again be left behind if the nettle isn’t grasped.
“For me, I always keep the slogan, when I go into something that looks impossible, that everything is possible until the moment that it looks not to be.
“That is how I set up the Eredivisie. Everybody said I was crazy. Everybody said what you’ve wanted your entire life, it will not happen. Within three months we had it all done.
“The enthusiasm of people is what makes the difference. If we can get a situation where teams are really connected and integrated into senior men’s clubs, then it goes really fast.
“All of the players do not have to pay to play anymore, and that is a huge step this year, and the next step is to connect them with senior clubs with the facilities to train on a regular basis.
“As soon as you’ve got that done, if there is a gap to fill there with mixed-gender training, then you’re ready to close the gap and that can go really fast.
“The way it is going now, the growth would be too slow to end with the situation soon where they had an elite sport program on a daily basis.”