Dispute among officials sidelines hundreds of girl soccer players in Dublin

A dispute between league officials has led to a mass exodus of teams from the Metropolitan Girls’ League

The Metropolitan Girls’ League (MGL) in Dublin, which has nurtured talent such as Abbie Larkin and Australian World Cup star Mary Fowler, is struggling to survive after haemorrhaging 85 teams this year.

A further 66 girls’ teams want to join the Dublin and District School boys and girls League (DDSL) following a dispute between the North Dublin Schoolboys League (NDSL) board of directors and MGL officers.

Affiliated to the NDSL, the MGL had about 8,000 players last season, but this number has dwindled since a dispute broke out between the NDSL and the MGL. The MGL claim the dispute came after the NDSL directors declined to have an MGL representative seated on their board.

The NDSL subsequently made it possible for Metro clubs to leave and join the rival DDSL in the 2023/24 campaign.


Last month, all 20 MGL academy coaches resigned in protest.

The academy coaches’ resignation letter on August 25th read: “What should be an incredibly difficult decision has been made simple for us, due to the questionable decision making of the three person NDSL/MGL board of directors in removing [MGL director Philip Henry] and the operating committee for the MGL.”

“In this, the most successful year ever for women’s football in Ireland, the MGL academy coaching teams are at a loss for words to describe events that are now having a tangible negative impact on the future of girls football in the Dublin region.

“We urge the FAI to bring a swift resolution to this matter.”

Efforts by Eileen Gleeson, the association’s head of women and girls’ football, to mediate between the conflicting parties have proved unsuccessful. Seven clubs remain in limbo, following the rejection by the Schoolboys/girls FAI (SFAI) on Wednesday of appeals to transfer from the NDSL/MGL to the DDSL.

Gleeson is double-jobbing as the Republic of Ireland interim manager, so she has to prepare the senior side for the first women’s international at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday against Northern Ireland.

Finding a resolution to the dispute “is hugely important”, said Gleeson on Tuesday. “These are internal issues with league administrations themselves. The governing body and the SFAI have been involved in all the conversations. They are ongoing.”

Three “pillars” of the FAI strategic plan (2022-25) are “driving grassroots football as the heart of the game”, “nurturing football pathways for all” and “developing the full potential of football for women and girls”.

Gleeson continued: “The goal is that every girl has the opportunity to play and have an appropriate games’ programme. We’re working towards that but we’re dealing with a lot of independent bodies, like leagues that have their own rules and regulations, that we have to overarch.

“Sometimes internal conflicts build up. We have to guard against it preventing girls from playing football.”

The MGL league was due to start in early September. Despite the mass migration of clubs, it is expected to begin this Sunday. However, The Irish Times has learned that several underage teams have received fixture lists from both the MGL and the DDSL, with all fixtures set to be played on Sunday.

In response to a query from The Irish Times on the dispute, the FAI confirmed they were “liaising closely with the SFAI, NDSL/MGL and DDSL in the recent weeks and days.”

“The shared ambition of all bodies involved has been to ensure the seasons can commence as promptly as possible. The FAI endorsed the SFAI decision and subsequent appeals process which has now concluded providing closure. The overriding ambition of all involved has been to ensure that the girls impacted by this situation can get back on the pitch and we are satisfied that they will be able commence their seasons in full from this weekend.”

In August, the MGL officers, including former Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Grace McAuley Ryan, accused the NDSL/MGL board of not complying with the Irish Companies Act of 2014, “regarding the rotation of directors”. They also claimed that the current directors “have not been re-elected in over a decade”.

The Irish Times has approached the three NDSL/MGL directors – Gary Tolan (chairperson), Martin Curley (honorary secretary) and Brendan Renwick (financial director) – for comment.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent