On Thursday, the Football Association of Ireland will hold an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the women’s national team, 1973 being the year when they played their first official international game. It’s been a long and decidedly bumpy road since then, but thanks to the success of the current crop of senior players, the national team has never been in a better place.
It falls to Eileen Gleeson now to help nudge that progress along and take full advantage of it, having been appointed head of women and girls’ football by the FAI in January.
“It’s the dream job,” she says of her new role, which she took on after ending her year-long spell as manager of Glasgow City the previous month.
Before that, of course, she was Vera Pauw’s Republic of Ireland assistant, having earned her stripes in domestic club football, most notably leading Peamount United to huge success during her eight years managing the club.
Throw in her Uefa Pro Licence, and Gleeson’s CV proved irresistible for the FAI when they looked for someone to steer the women’s game in Ireland.
She doesn’t lack an eye, either, for promoting the women’s game, the Dubliner being the person who uploaded the video of Stephanie Roche’s goal for Peamount against Wexford Youths to YouTube almost 10 years ago. Without that action, the Puskas award nomination that followed, and the ensuing positive attention for women’s football, would probably never have happened.
Now, though, she’s in a position to do more than upload videos. “It’s a really exciting time for women’s football, I couldn’t have come in at a better time with the progression on the back of the World Cup qualification, and with the current growth in women’s football.”
“I have been involved in Irish women’s football for more than 30 years and had many gripes down the years, so this is a chance for me to impact many of the areas that I had been speaking about. I feel that this role is the culmination of all my experiences and skills and where I can have more of an impact.”
Gleeson was talking at Fingal County Council’s HQ in Swords where, in collaboration with the FAI, they were announcing the launch of the first ‘Girls’ Transition Year Football and Fitness course’. The event was also attended by FAI President Gerry McAnaney.
A similar boys’ course has been running since 2016, senior international Andrew Omobamidele one of its graduates, but in the 2023-24 school year 25 girls will be invited to combine their studies with a range of courses at Abbotstown, allowing them to try out full-time football training while obtaining qualifications in coaching and fitness training.
Gleeson welcomed the development with no little enthusiasm, part of the effort, she said, to provide a more supportive structure for the women’s game here, her wider plan to give opportunities “for every girl and young woman to reach their full potential, whether they just want to play for fun, play at an elite level, at national level or play professionally”.
She’s loving her job, and waves off any notion that she might apply for the senior international role should Pauw opt to move on after the World Cup.
“No,” she said emphatically in response to that query, and neither, she said, has she any role in negotiating with Pauw, whose contract expires after the tournament.
“I’m definitely not involved in anything like that,” she said. “That’s not me. I’m happy to focus on these young girls and women.”
And, no, she doesn’t offer tactical advice either to Pauw when she sits back and watches the team’s games these days. “Vera has all angles covered, so I’ll leave that to her and her team,” she said. “I just watch them as a proper fan.”