Belfast Telegraph

Gail Redmond: World Cup will take women's football in Northern Ireland to a new level

The former NI captain and current Women's Domestic Manager for the IFA Foundation gives her thoughts on the legacy of the tournament

United States' forward Christen Press celebrates after scoring against England in the World Cup semi-final.
United States' forward Christen Press celebrates after scoring against England in the World Cup semi-final.
US players celebrate at the end of the France 2019 Women's World Cup semi-final football match between England and USA, on July 2, 2019, at the Lyon Satdium in Decines-Charpieu, central-eastern France. (Photo by Philippe DESMAZES / AFP)PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
Party time: USA’s Alex Morgan pretends to drink tea after scoring against England to make it 2-1 in Lyon last night, sending the Americans into the World Cup final

By Gail Redmond

The standard of the World Cup has been fantastic, and I really hope it will be inspiring young girls to be there, to want to get to that big stage.

The professionalism now will hopefully encourage more young girls to take up the sport, while seeing more women in coaching roles as well as ambassadors and TV pundits will open their eyes to more avenues that they can go down.

Because of the success of England, we know we'll always reap benefits from that. I think the viewing figures for the games are around 7m, so that in itself reflects that people in the UK are so engaged in women's football now, and hopefully that will provide a platform for us to continue the good work we've been doing to increase the participation in the game in Northern Ireland.

Nicole McClure of Sion Swifts being involved with Jamaica was massive, and I know for Sion, coming back and sharing her experiences with the rest of girls, the high profile it enjoyed and the fact that she actually played, it was brilliant for the league. Everyone must now be excited to get the chance to try and score past a World Cup goalie!

But it's fantastic the work she's done in Strabane with Sion.

We also have Emma Higgins, who played for Team GB at the Olympics, and that only inspires others to push on and see if they can reach the level of those before them.

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Society in itself is really embracing the opportunities for women at the highest level, and not just playing but also with the amount of female coaches at the World Cup, female doctors, all the TV stations have female pundits, so I think it's spreading the word there's opportunities for women in all key roles at the World Cup.

We want to upscale women to take on these roles. At the IFA we have our Female Football Leaders programme which aims to get women to sit on more football boards and committees because their voices are needed and they're needed to be in those decision-making roles. Across Northern Ireland we need more female representation.

That's why we need to provide more opportunities for women to be upscaled. We're seeking out women who have experience and who have maybe left similar roles, but we're also making sure women are aware of the opportunities.

Sometimes the chance to sit on a board or committee isn't publicised quite as much and we want to make sure we're doing everything we can to let women know about it.

When I first returned from the USA, our league was a two-horse race between Crusaders and Glentoran. Linfield in the last three years have shown their experience, while we also have Sion Swifts doing well now, so we're growing a competitive league here where maybe four or five teams could win it and we can drive development through it.

Northern Ireland is one of the only countries in Europe that had its main governing body (NIFL) also governing a women's league, so that's something big for us. We've had the first ever sponsor for women's football, Electric Ireland, who have come in and shared our vision of building pathways in our women's football programme from grassroots all the way up to our excellence programme.

We're seeing more local fans of football attending women's games and, similar to the World Cup, the product is good. When they see a standard that's worth grabbing their attention, it'll get more interest, and that will lead to more interest from local companies.

We recently launched a strategy for the next five years and our main goal is to double participation from grassroots all the way up to the senior level by the time the strategy is finished.

We feel if we continue putting the pathways in place for more development, with the introduction of some new youth leagues that we need around the country and introducing more opportunities for female coaches and administrators, then the future will be bright for women's football in Northern Ireland.

We've a plan to launch our Shooting Stars programme, for four- to seven-year-olds, in every council area because we realise we have to get girls playing at that entry level.

Now we've got a university programme where you can get a scholarship to be an elite athlete with the Ulster University at Jordanstown.

We're really pushing hard with NIFL to make sure there are more opportunities and you look at the phenomenal crowds for the Irish Cup last year, with almost 2,000 people at the final.

We have so many role models in Northern Ireland, like our captain Marissa Callaghan, Rachel Furness who plays for Reading, Simone Magill at Everton.

We're so delighted Megan Bell is going to England too, she's a wonderful talent coming through and she'll be an inspiration to all girls in Northern Ireland that it can be done.

We're very excited about the future of the game in Northern Ireland and with a clear strategy and a new plan that really encourages growth and club capacity, I really think we're on the right track.

We're really reaping the benefits of investment over the last few years, and if we keep following that direction then I don't think there's any reason why we can't be at a major tournament within 10 years.

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