Paul Farrell, the first team manager of Cork City WFC spoke to Impetus editor Ben Gilby about the club’s history, the current campaign, and their hopes for the future.
Photo: Cork City celebrate in the FAI WNL this season. Photo: Salem Photos.
Cork City’s women’s team has been active now for about 11 years. Paul details the history behind the club.
“Originally, the women’s club was out on its own, but gradually it came under the Cork City FC banner in 2018, just after we won the 2017 Cup, during which time we were partly under the club, Now we’re fully one club in a number of aspects including marketing, budgeting and jerseys.
“We started off with a senior team, then we developed a junior and senior academy. Since then, we developed an Under 17 WNL team, an Under 19 WNL team, and obviously the main WNL team. Every year, the women’s side of the club grows with the number of girls in our squads.”
With light beginning to emerge from the end of the Coronavirus tunnel, Paul highlighted the impact that it has had on the club.
“In lockdown, it was mostly zoom training, with our strength and conditioning coaches, physios, and analysis staff giving the players plans to stick to throughout lockdown. When we returned to play, it was great but obviously difficult as there are still a lot of protocols to be followed, such as no access to dressing rooms, and meetings limited to 15 minutes. It’s difficult but we have to deal with it and move on. “On the flip side, it was probably good for the girls, as they’re now closer than ever, seeing as training was the only thing they were doing throughout lockdown.”
As with any other club, there are challenges off the pitch apart from covid. Cork City’s are similar to many of their FAI WNL rivals.
It’s difficult to get money in through sponsorship. The marketing and commercial staff at Cork City have been superb for that, but that’s something that’s always difficult for a WNL club,” said Paul.
“Another challenge that we face is that because we are always growing, that naturally creates more work and more things need to be done and looked after. It sometimes becomes difficult trying to get as many volunteers as we need but again the club has been fantastic here and the volunteers are working really hard but you could always do with more volunteers.”
With the FAI WNL now entering its last final weeks, Paul highlighted how things have gone.
“This season has gone as we had planned, we’d obviously hoped to be further up the table, but with a number of players departing the club early in the season and a number of players being lost to injury, there’s been a big turnover in the squad. We’ve also lost a number of players mid-season to scholarships in the USA. That has made things difficult for us.
“Of the 11 that started the cup final last year, four of them are still here. That’s a massive turnover in players and in quality. The girls that have come in are doing really well, and the underage girls coming through are developing and now need to get experience in the senior setup. Our aim for the rest of the season is to continue developing those players, get some good performances under our belt each week and get as high up the table as we can. We need to build for next season now.”
With this being the first season that Impetus has covered the FAI WNL, Paul was keen to share some background about the competition.
“The standard in the league has always been really good, but it has also definitely improved over the last number of years. All the clubs in the league are now looking beyond local level. There are a number of players in the senior international squad currently playing in the league, and many more of the international players played in the league in the past, so the quality has always been there.
“It’s a nine-team league at the moment, you’ve got a handful of Dublin clubs and then a few spread out across the country like Galway, Athlone, Treaty, Wexford, and ourselves. The league is developing across the country and we know that there is going to be more clubs getting involved over the next couple of years. That’s also going to raise the standard and make it more professional.
“There has also been huge developments off the pitch, in terms of promotion and marketing for the league. Between social media coverage and media in general, it has improved tenfold over the last number of years. The streaming service that LOITV provides shows all of the WNL games for free, showcasing the league more to the public and that has definitely increased the profile of the women’s game in Ireland.”
As Paul touched on earlier, Cork City is more than just about their senior FAI WNL club. There is a clear pathway for girls within the province of Munster to develop with the club.
“Girls from the age of ten can come into our underage academy, where they can progress the whole way up to our U17 WNL team, U19 WNL team, and also the senior setup. We’ve got a great relationship with all the other clubs in Cork. We have done coaching sessions with many clubs across the Munster region – in Kerry, Waterford, and Tipperary, so we’ve got great links with clubs across Munster as well. We’d like to build on that to ensure that there is a pathway for girls to come right through with Cork City and play at the highest level in Ireland.
“We’ve currently got over 40 players registered across our U17 & U19 National league squads, and we have 24 registered to our senior team. A few of those are still eligible to play for our U19 side as well, so there’s an overlap there.
“I can only see that number growing in the coming years, with possibly an U15 team introduced to a National League setup.”
Cork City, like all clubs, rely on volunteers to keep functioning. Paul outlined the roles and influence that their own volunteers have.
“There’s a long list of unsung heroes at our club, but I won’t go into too much detail, because I would probably end up forgetting to mention someone!
“The women’s committee has been superb to us, they ran the club before we went in under Cork City, and have continued to do great work for the women’s section. The board and the staff at Cork City have also been a huge help to us, we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. All of the volunteers that we have, have also put in a tireless amount of work. All of our coaching staff, from the senior setup to the academy, are all volunteers, and they dedicate so much time from their week and weekend and put in so much work to create that atmosphere and environment to help the players progress to that elite level of football.
Paul also highlighted the ever-increasing growth in player development across Ireland.
“The underage teams are training more, they’ve been putting in more time and are better educated, so they’re coming through the ranks as better players, which raises the standard in the underage leagues but also at senior level when they filter through to the league.
“This has a knock-on effect as well with the international team – look at our own Eabha O’Mahony, who has recently gone on a scholarship to Boston College. She has been in the international senior setup since she was 16 and has got a number of caps for them. It shows that there are a large number of girls coming through the underage ranks due to the better structures in place, and better quality and more qualified coaches in place which again raises the standards all around. That is coming into the WNL as well – all coaches in the league need to have a minimum of an A Licence.
“I do of course think there’s still more room for development for the women’s game on and off the pitch. We moved to the men’s club’s stadium, Turner’s Cross this year, which has been a huge step forward for us, but all teams in the league should be playing at the best available stadiums, the standard should be kept at those levels.
“In terms of our own club, anything that the boys’ or men’s sides get, the girls get as well. Everyone at Cork City is on an equal footing and has the same opportunities.
We closed our conversation by looking ahead to the future – it is one that Paul is hugely excited about.
“I think there will be a lot more changes in the next five years. The women’s game has developed rapidly and that is only going to continue. Higher crowds at games, hopefully funding will increase – maybe expenses for the girls or a bit of money per game.
“Hopefully the coverage and credit that the women’s game gets online will continue, and the promotion of the women’s game keeps getting better. It would be great if we get to see further expansion in the league, with more teams joining and maybe even adding a second division.
“For our own club, it’s about making sure that we continue to compete at the highest level that we can. We want to compete at the top. We’ll continue to develop our underage teams, and develop good players and role models both on and off the pitch.
“Over the next five years, I can see the women’s side of Cork City just increasing in size and improving again, helping us to lead at the top. If the players that come through aren’t ready to make the step to senior or Cork City, they can go back to the local league in Cork, which will help raise the standard of those leagues, in turn creating better quality players and improving the overall standard of women’s football in Cork.”