Last week, this column extolled the virtues of Ireland’s young players - and talked about how the national side can bring up the standard of the WNL through increased exposure. But it can work the other way around too - the WNL can drive on the national sides - in stark contrast to the situation in the men’s game.
Even for a women’s league, the WNL has a low average age. Those young players can be the driver for the league’s progress.
Professional teams from Europe and the USA are increasingly seeing Ireland as a source of young, talented players. The likes of Louise Quinn and Denise O’Sullivan are examples of players who have been spotted in the WNL (although their international careers probably did them no harm, either.)
As those players develop, naturally the national teams at all age levels would benefit from having more players playing professionally. But the role of the WNL is more than just being a shop window.
Our under-19 team is a prime example of how the WNL can be the single most important thing to Irish football’s development internationally. The under-19s made good on their win against Kazakhstan last week by beating Greece and drawing against Denmark.
The advantage our under-19s have is that they get lots of first team football in a competitive league. It might not be professional, but it’s still a higher standard than youth leagues in most European countries.
Players like Chloe Mustaki, Clare Shine and Lauren Dwyer are all fine examples of how the WNL has benefited youth development. Any of those players - all of whom are under-19- can mix it with the best in the league.
The danger is that some of these players - whether they stay in the WNL or go abroad - could burn out. For every young player who has made good on their promise, there are probably two or three who haven’t.
The WNL needs to ensure that players don’t burn out. Many players have to go straight from international duty into the league. Steps should be taken to make sure that young players aren’t overplayed - it’s simply not enough to leave it up to individual clubs and hope for the best.
Credit is due for the WNL’s attempts so far, where matches have been rescheduled, but more could be done. Why not have an equivalent to the IRFU’s long-term player development programme? Too often, Irish players are coached to win at too early a stage - which might well explain our lack of success at any underage or senior level (apart from a few blips).
In both men’s and women’s football across most of Europe, player welfare is at the forefront of coaching. In women’s football, relatively small countries like Iceland, New Zealand and Norway tend to do well. Ireland needs to take heed and realise that, with an emphasis on correct player development in coaching, success is within our grasp.
Player of the Week: Emma Hansberry
Scoring the second goal in Castlebar Celtic’s win against Wexford Youths is one thing, but scoring the goal that made sure of Celtic’s place in their first ever WFAI Cup final is another altogether. The 2011 Young Player Of The Year is one of those precocious talents referenced above, so don’t be surprised if this is the season she really steps up to the plate.