Women’s World Cup: Call goes up for qualifier venue switch

September’s crucial game against Finland set for Tallaght, but pressure mounts for Aviva

Calls for Katie McCabe's Republic of Ireland to switch from Tallaght to the Aviva stadium for September's crucial World Cup qualifier against Finland are growing louder.

Just 95 years after the men first played in Lansdowne Road.

The Football Association of Ireland, perhaps sensing the winds of change, remain open to the idea.

"We will discuss the arrangements for the remaining fixtures with Vera and the wider team and, guided by them, all options will be considered," an FAI spokesman told The Irish Times.

This appears to put the emphasis on Ireland coach Vera Pauw and administrative staff to make the call. That would be a shame because in Jonathan Hill, the English-based chief executive of Irish football, the association have a marketing man by trade, who knows all about packing Wembley as far back as Euro '96 (it's also where the English women beat Northern Ireland 4-0 last year).

An occasional move away from Tallaght and its 8,000 capacity is inevitable, despite Irish players loving the homely relationship created with young fans. Otherwise, they will be left behind by the neighbours. Windsor Park welcomed a record crowd of 15,348 for Northern Ireland's 5-0 defeat to England on Tuesday.

"That's next on our list," said McCabe about selling out the Aviva sooner rather than later. "That would be unbelievable. We see the Camp Nou and Barcelona at the forefront of it, they've sold out the Wolfsburg semi-final now too. We're [Arsenal, her club] playing more games at the Emirates so maybe a national game in the Aviva would be nice."

Growing attendances on the continent and even the Swedish shirt campaign by Adidas proves that robust marketing can attract a larger audience. All this plays right into Hill's expertise.

RTÉ coverage would also help, with 251,000 tuning into the Gamla Ullevi stadium for Ireland's historic 1-1 draw with Sweden, along with Sky's enthusiastic sponsorship.

Also, Pauw has enough to be worrying about, rather than putting the emphasis on the team to think about enticing 50,000 to Dublin 4 for what would be a momentous leap towards equality.

Still, it must be nice to be consulted, as mounting pressure on the Dutch coach's position subsided in Gothenburg mainly because her square pegs fit snugly into round holes to deliver a heroic performance. The valuable point, which will move Ireland into the play-off spot once they dispatch Georgia in June, was secured despite Megan Connolly, the Brighton midfielder, operating at left centre-half, while the international credentials of Jamie Finn and Chloe Mustaki as wing backs were rigorously examined by Sweden.

Pauw also got a major call at goalkeeper spot on. It sounded pre match like Megan Walsh, previously considered a superior shot stopper to Courtney Brosnan, would usurp the Everton reserve but Covid intervened as Pauw piled her trust into the New Jersey born keeper.

Brosnan delivered a solid 94 minutes with one memorable palmed save from Filippa Angeldal’s close range effort.

And while the system looked more like 5-4-1, as Heather Payne was forced into a tortuous lone attacking shift, the 3-4-2-1 has become part of Ireland’s DNA, mainly because it allows McCabe to feature as a devilishly creative force.

Tuesday’s famous result also puts a focus on whether the FAI are ready to capitalise on the success flowing out of McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan’s peak years.

Hill and FAI president Gerry McAnaney did travel over to Gothenburg, but sustained progress at board level remains to be seen. Especially considering that the FAI framed the female game as a core pillar of their strategic plan up to 2025. Reality tells a different story as the women's strategic committee, formed in July 2021 under chairwoman Sally Horrox, has never met. In fact, the committee is yet to be formed and that includes the election of a player representative.

“Nominations for this committee remain in progress and are almost complete,” the FAI replied. “The committee will meet at the earliest opportunity once positions are filled.”

Current generation

Meanwhile, Ireland surge towards a World Cup play-off in October, while Horrox takes up the role as World Rugby’s director of women’s rugby, a position that compelled her to step down from the consultancy firm she created in 2015.

“For us now, the current generation, we need to keep fighting to progress the game at international level and in our league,” said McCabe on the eve of bagging a 14th Ireland goal. “I still keep an eye on the women’s national league even though I am in London. To get better as an international team we need to look after our own league and support it.”

Clubs in the women's national league have called on the FAI to lobby Fifa to change article 20, which states that clubs only receive "training compensation" for the transfer of male, and not female, players to bigger leagues.

Equal pay with the men’s senior team was achieved without the association having to increase investment, but it does help home based players like Mustaki.

“I am taking annual leave for this,” the Shelbourne defender revealed following her competitive debut. “Equal pay is massive for me, but it is massive for everyone and I think it is well overdue.

“To be fair, I didn’t partake in that fight. All the girls did and they worked hard and put in a good pathway for all the girls that are coming now. Hopefully, they won’t need to struggle as much as some of the girls in the past.

“If we were to qualify for a World Cup, it would bring a lot of attention to women’s football in Ireland and hopefully a lot more resources going towards it over the next couple of years. We want to qualify for major tournaments and that will only improve the standards at home as well.”