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Playing on a Sunday can give boost to women’s game, says Northern Ireland star Julie Nelson

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Crusaders’ Julie Nelson (left) would like to see change within the Women’s Premiership

Crusaders’ Julie Nelson (left) would like to see change within the Women’s Premiership

Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

Crusaders’ Julie Nelson (left) would like to see change within the Women’s Premiership

Northern Ireland’s record caps holder Julie Nelson has suggested a radical switch to Sunday football in order to enhance the women’s domestic game.

Gerard Lawlor, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Football League who run the top division, has invited clubs to discuss options on how the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership can grow.

International manager Kenny Shiels has expressed his desire for the league to switch to a winter season in order to help his domestic-based players.

A record-breaking crowd of over 15,000 watched Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against England at Windsor Park last week and with the team now preparing for the Women’s Euro 2022 finals in July, there is a strong desire to capitalise on a unique opportunity.

That match brought out a large number of young fans and families and coincided with school holidays — however when the Premiership season kicks off tomorrow night, all games are scheduled for midweek evening kick-offs.

“I floated the idea this year of can we move maybe to playing on a weekend,” said Crusaders Strikers captain Nelson, who has 123 international caps to her name.

“When I played in Scotland, for example, I felt that Sunday games always worked really well and it was easy to structure your training week as well.

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“I suppose the issue in Northern Ireland is the facilities — and also the playing football on a Sunday issue.

“We have opened up a bit on that in terms of playing on Sundays. Maybe some people still aren’t comfortable with it, but can we play on a Saturday after a men’s game? Can we play on a Friday evening?

“There are many different things that can be looked at because, in terms of visibility, a lot of young kids are in bed or getting ready for bed by the time our games start at eight o’clock on a Wednesday night.”

The women’s season in Northern Ireland has always run through the summer, although one of the factors when the ban on Sunday football was voted out over a decade ago was to allow the female game to play in the winter on Sunday afternoons.

“We have just played two competitive international fixtures and we’ve had no competitive league game since last October and even our last international fixture was in November, so it’s a quite a long gap without a competitive game,” said Nelson.

“Yes, you can play friendlies, but they don’t replicate a competitive fixture.

“You are never going to please everyone, but I think it’s definitely a conversation that needs to be had in terms of progressing the league going forward.”

Crusaders start the season with a home clash against Derry City Women, who have promoted Under-19 coach Josh Boyle as caretaker manager following the departure of Kevin McLaughlin.

“Last year we set ourselves a target of winning silverware and lost out in two cup finals, which was disappointing — especially in the County Antrim with how close we came to getting the victory in that game,” said Nelson.

“Again, the aim this season is to win silverware. In the league we finished third last year, but there was still quite a significant gap between ourselves and Cliftonville and Glentoran, so we need to close that gap.”


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