It seemed like a nice idea when it was announced by the Football Association of Ireland last month. They would invite every woman who had ever played senior football for Ireland to the Aviva stadium on Saturday where they would be “honoured” and presented with a commemorative cap to acknowledge their contribution to the game down the years.
Except it’s not going to be quite the occasion these players had hoped for.
There won’t, they’ve been told, be enough caps to go around for the numbers expected to turn up at the Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland Nations League game.
The 1973 team, who played in Ireland’s first official women’s international, will all receive a cap, but after that they will be given out alphabetically. The players left stranded when the caps run out will, they were told, receive one later in the post.
And they won’t, as they had hoped, be presented to the crowd on the pitch before the game or at half-time, even the pioneering 1973 team. Once they collect their caps, and head to their seats for the game, that’ll be that. No reception, just a cup of tea or coffee while they queue. Several of the players have chipped in a tenner each to book a corner in a local pub after the game, have some nibbles and a catch-up.
“I would love if we were brought on to the pitch, my grandchildren would be so proud of me, rather than visiting me in a nursing home. It would be lovely to be recognised for the great women we were back in 1973.”
So said Nono McHugh when she spoke with Liveline on Monday, the Galway woman, who captained Ireland in that first international, one of several former players to talk to Joe. Not an easy programme for Duffy, one of the players (potentially) libelling a former FAI chief executive, prompting Duffy to take a swift ad break and issue a sizeable apology on his return.
Jackie O’Brien, who played for Ireland in the decade up to 1993 and another contributor to the show, has chosen to boycott the event. “It’s not really what I expected it would be. We’re being thrown in a room, pick up your cap, and off you go. An absolute disgrace. A meal should be given, these players should be honoured, they should be walked on to the pitch — if you’re going to do it, do it right. Not ‘we’ll throw an auld cap at you’.
“It’s brilliant that the FAI are honouring us after 50 years, but do it properly. We shouldn’t be going, ‘oh, thank you FAI, thank you for the cap’ — we actually earned them, although some people never received a physical cap. We played for Ireland, we are ex-Irish internationals, we’re just looking to be treated in that way, appropriately … We were proud to play for Ireland, it’s about time for them to say, ‘we’re proud of you too girls’.”
Catherine Byrne, another former international, contacted The Irish Times to share her fury about Saturday’s arrangements.
“There’ll be a conveyor belt of us queuing for caps outside a room in the stadium when the most we’ll get is a cup of tea. I’m Byrne, so I’ll have a fair chance of getting one. But Helena Stapleton, sister of Frank, is wondering if there’s any point in her showing up. I played for Ireland between 1980 and 1994, with a big gap in between because I was on a football scholarship in the States and they wouldn’t, of course, pay for me to come home. I can tell you now, I’m not taking a cap ahead of any of the players who came before me, no way. If it wasn’t for them and their sacrifices, I would never have had the honour of playing for my country.”
“We were always treated as second-class citizens by the FAI, this was a chance to make up for that in a small way — but here we go again. They’re saying they don’t have the money to put on a lavish event, but they always seem to find some way to honour their former male internationals. We’re not asking for more, we just want equality.”
In response, an FAI spokesperson said “we’re obviously very disappointed that that went out on Liveline. We thought it would be a really nice gesture, in the 50th year of women’s international football, to give every woman who has played for the national team a commemorative cap. We thought the best way to do this was over a few big events. Two hundred of them are coming on Saturday, with a plus one, so they’re getting 400 free tickets. This was genuinely the FAI trying to do a nice thing for women who haven’t been recognised before, for the amount of work that the team has put into it we’re really disappointed that this is how it has been misconstrued.”
The spokesperson didn’t deny that there wouldn’t be enough caps to go around for all the players expected to attend. But “to get that number of caps made does take a number of months — so we’ve split it up into two events: we’ve got this Saturday, with the intention that there will be another event for the rest of them”.
As for the players not being presented to the crowd on the pitch: “It’s a Uefa match so there’s only so much we can do regarding protocol on the pitch, 200 people out there just wasn’t going to be feasible. We felt 400 free tickets and a big shout-out over the PA system to the crowd was a good enough gesture.”