Belfast Telegraph

World Cup can help women's football boom in Northern Ireland, say big names

 

NI women’s boss Kenny Shiels
NI women’s boss Kenny Shiels
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter
NI hero Gerry Armstrong
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Some of Northern Ireland's top footballing names have expressed their hope that the success of the Women's World Cup will induce more interest in the sport at a local level.

The tournament, which is currently being held in France, has captured the imagination of sporting fans and has been a massive hit with people around the world.

England's heartbreaking loss to the United States in the semi-final on Tuesday drew the highest TV figures of the year so far, with a peak audience of 11.7m (50.8 per cent of the share) tuning in.

Now, some of the biggest names in the local game are eager to see that success translated into the Northern Ireland game, in particular in relation to funding.

While the sport has recently been given a massive boost with companies such as Electric Ireland and Danske Bank providing fantastic support by way of sponsorship, the amount is still well behind that received by the top nations such as England, the USA, Germany and the Netherlands.

Northern Ireland women's manager Kenny Shiels is among those hoping the success of the tournament will see more companies invest in the game here.

"It'd be great if there was more money invested in the domestic league because if the money is invested in the domestic league then the national team will reap the benefits, no doubt," said Shiels.

"When we get companies on board like Electric Ireland and Danske Bank, who have provided such great investment and are great supporters of the women's game, that's fantastic.

"We need to get professional players in our own league and it's going to be tough to do that. The clubs are doing their best, but it's all about the investment and what they can put into the league."

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has begun working more closely in the women's game having taken some training sessions with the club's ladies' team, the Strikers, in recent weeks, and he believes that there's already been a tangible difference.

"I've been really impressed with how the whole thing has been set up, how professional it's all been," praised Baxter.

"The standard has really impressed me, but it doesn't surprise me because I've been down with our own Strikers team and was very impressed with the amount of women training.

"There's been an explosion in women's football in the last two or three years, that's where the growth has been in the game.

"When you see games like that on TV, you can't help but think that there's a generation of young girls who will look at that and be inspired by that. The benefits that they're getting are huge."

Former Northern Ireland international and respected TV analyst Gerry Armstrong is another who has been very impressed by the standard of the competition, with the 65-year-old believing that the success of the event could lead to a domino effect of young girls getting involved in Northern Ireland in the future.

"It's growing and growing, and I'm pleased it is because I could see the potential of it 25 years ago when I was coaching in America alongside George Best, Danny McGrain and David McCreery," said Armstrong.

"Most of the kids on the course were girls because they wanted a sport to call their own and you can see it making a difference now.

"But it's not just the players, it's the coaching that has got better as well. Phil Neville is someone who has had a great pro career and now he's an excellent coach with England, and that can only help when you have top-class coaches and people involved.

"It's a knock down effect, the more girls that play football will encourage even more girls to play and that leads to a snowball effect."

Already the sport has seen the impact of the World Cup, most recently at the League Cup final last Friday, which drew a strong crowd to Seaview to see Glentoran defeat Sion Swifts to lift the trophy.

Victorious Glens captain and Northern Ireland international Jessica Foy commented: "It's a fantastic advert for women's football. There's increased media coverage and the standard of football is getting better.

"We have two players coming from America to play for us, so it shows people want to come to Northern Ireland to play football."

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