Vera Pauw intent on keeping the pedal down on progress of women’s game in Ireland

‘There are so many questions we can address with the money that is coming in’

Denise O’Sullivan turns, glances and pitches a gorgeous ball into the path of Amber Barrett. The rest is history. No going back now. The morning after Hampden presents Vera Pauw with the same old questions, except this time a far wider audience is listening, reading, watching.

But first, a mea culpa. The Ireland manager appears from conclave with FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill and president Gerry McAnaney, who all agree to douse the flames of ‘Up-The-Ra-Gate’ with an apology. No gimmicks. No whataboutery. Just hands up.

Ideally this calms the outrage. “Incredibly embarrassed,” Chloe Mustaki tells Sky Sports News as Pauw plays “the foreigner” card to sidestep a paramilitary chant while facing this uniquely Irish mess with céad míle “sorrys”.

Instagram Live is a staple of victorious changing rooms across all sports but the age of innocence is behind Katie McCabe’s gang, and now they know it.


But what of this brave new world before them?

Fifa are yet to confirm the divvy, but €1.2 million in prize money per nation is being reported, along with life-altering marketing and advertising opportunities. The total prize money for the men’s World Cup in Qatar next month is €450 million, which drops to €62 million for the women tournament in 2023, although the USA have agreed to an equal share between male and female players.

Back home in Ireland, a hesitancy remains around the FAI – as two years without a male shirt sponsor proves – and how they will make hay while the sun shines. Historically, the association have failed to adequately capitalise upon the financial opportunities presented by reaching major tournaments. Look at the stadiums. Look at the domestic league. Look at the men’s results.

This is a new FAI, a more progressive FAI, but the same FAI that remains on course to having their Government funding slashed next year for failing to populate their 12-person board with four women.

Pauw has fresher fish to fry and while her contract ends after next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, 40-odd years of elite football experience, coaching five national sides this century, before Ireland came calling in 2019, leaves her strategically placed to oversee the revolution.

“I am part of this and there are of course many things privately that are part of [any future decisions], but it is very clear my heart is lying here.”

The FAI point to the doubling of female participation numbers, equal pay for international players and big words in a strategy document, but what’s the actual plan Vera?

“We are already working on that for a long time. We have started a development plan for the women’s game and I think the first thing we need to look at is how we can create equality of opportunities for all, because we now have a bunch of players who are very talented in Ireland. Many of them could make the step to professional football but to be honest there is no pathway from age six to the top.

The key thing now is opportunities for [female] children. We need an under-15 league because so many girls stop playing because there is no opportunity

—  Vera Pauw

“Every girl in Ireland should have the right and the opportunity to have the same facilities as the boys have, and that is not yet the case.

“There are many very good examples that could be the blueprint for other clubs but when you turn 12, 13 and mixed-gender football is not happening any more there is no place to go.

“The key thing now is opportunities for [female] children. We need an under-15 league because so many girls stop playing because there is no opportunity.

“Or, why is there an age limit on mixed-gender football? If you are good enough why should a ponytail stop you playing with your team in a higher age category. Why can’t everybody have the same rights? Why can’t I find a team, if I am good enough, that suits me, that is my level?

“There are so many questions we can address with the money that is coming in.”

Pauw is confident the FAI women’s strategic committee will influence the areas they control in Irish football, but therein lies the rub; the KNVB in Holland has actual control of the game and that is why Total Football became a reality, and probably why soccer in Ireland will never scale the same dizzy heights.

“Of course there are many stakeholders here,” she explained, “it is not as easy as in the Netherlands, where there is one association and a kid of six is a member of the same association as the top players on the national team.

“So you have more grip. The clubs are all part of the association and the association puts down how we play it, where we play it and creates the leagues and competitions.

“Here it is a bigger challenge. You deal with many stakeholders, many different styles and groups who are all autonomous. But all we can do, is do the things we can do right, like setting up an under 15 league and an under 15 national team. Like changing the rules of mixed-gender football.

“There is a whole list that we have already made ... And then the elite sport will take care of itself, and it will explode.”

The next win-win situation for Pauw, McCabe, Instagram Live and the FAI is the reconstruction of Tallaght stadium. The female pioneers will go on the road with World Cup friendlies potentially finishing at a sold-out Aviva Stadium next summer, just before the squad flies to Australasia. Because the superpowers are suddenly interested in an ultra-defensive Irish conundrum. England to open Lansdowne Road to women? Or the USA? Or Brazil, to entice a growing diaspora in Dublin?

Watch this space.

In the meantime, McAnaney and Pauw lead an Irish delegation to Auckland for the World Cup draw on October 22nd.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent