Cups are often derided in modern football. Too often, you’ll hear the FAI Cup or League Cup talked down - “sure it’s the league that matters”. But cups, in their knockout format, represent football’s history. In Ireland, the near-forgotten Leinster Senior Cup is the oldest surviving senior football competition. Delving into its history, with names like the Royal Irish Rifles, Freebooters and Drumcondra, tells you part of the story of football in Leinster.
For women’s football, cups are also vitally important in recalling the sport’s history. When there was no national league, the Cup served as the sole recognised national competition - the sole outlet for ambitious women footballers.
The FAI Women’s Cup didn’t start until 1989 (67 years after the men’s counterpart) but it still speaks about the history of women’s football in Ireland. The inaugural winners, Waterford’s Benfica, tell you of the strength of amateur women’s football in regional areas. Clubs like Boyne Rovers, Rathfarnham United, College Corinthians and Bealnamulla also reflect this - the early years of organised national women’s football in Ireland were truly national.
As the competition progressed, the exchanging periods of dominance for Shamrock Rovers and UCD reflected another phenomenon - forays by traditionally male football clubs (and, in the case of UCD, multisport faculties) into women’s football in earnest. Between 1997 and 2004, these two clubs shared the Cup between them. The strength of the DWSL - effectively a national league at times - came to bear on the Cup.
In 2005, Peamount United made their debut in a WFAI Cup final. Two years later, Raheny United made theirs. Both of these clubs also have strong men’s, boy’s and girl’s sides and both would go on to dominate the opening two editions of the Women’s National League.
The future of the WFAI Cup has to be intrinsically linked to the WNL. The WNL clubs have the resources to be able to dominate the Cup - given that the elite players (the ones playing on the national team and underage teams) are increasingly becoming concentrated in WNL clubs. As the gap between the top two and the rest in the WNL has grown, so too has the gap between the WNL and most other clubs.
But the participation of junior and intermediate clubs is vital to the Cup, as well as football as a whole. There’s always the potential for a shock, sure, even if this weekend’s results didn’t show that potential. But apart from that, it shows us where we came from. The days where there was no national league aren’t that far behind us, and the WFAI Cup reminds us that we should never take the status quo for granted.
Player of The Week: Orlagh Nolan
Nolan has promised much since her days at Shamrock Rovers, and she now looks like she could be about fulfil her potential. A hat-trick against Wilton United is not to be sniffed at, and bodes very well for DLR’s prospects in front of goal this season. If Nolan gets scoring like she can, she could be the final piece in the Waves jigsaw.