Ireland players still waiting on domestic alternative to leaving home for contracts

With the English WSL on their doorstep, more players are contemplating leaving home

The Republic of Ireland squad can be split into two distinct categories. Not quite the haves and have nots, more the established professional and understandably tentative amateur.

The latter is heading for extinction but not as quick as the players themselves would like.

This goes to the nub of female football in this country; to become a modestly paid pro in the English Women's Superleague, where the average salary is around £30,000 (€36,000), Savannah McCarthy and Jess Ziu must take leave of the domestic scene this summer.

"I am patient," said Ziu, the talented Shelbourne winger who featured in November's 11-0 defeat of Georgia. "I'm not too big on making moves right now. If it comes, it comes and if it doesn't, I'm not pushed. Once I am enjoying my football at Shels, and we have the Champions League too which is a big thing, so we'll see what happens.

“During the preseason I was over to a few [English] clubs so I got a taste of what they are like, because I know a few girls in Ireland that have gone over and they are not really enjoying it at the minute. So that is a big factor, enjoying it.

“I liked a few of the [clubs], a few of them I really did not like, so I am just weighing it up now.”

Ziu made no mention of Birmingham City, where a glut of Irish players, including Louise Quinn and Jamie Finn, are hardly enjoying 13 defeats from 15 matches in their miserable WSL campaign.

"For my first contract I will not be too big on money, but I will be big on where I am staying," continued Ziu, speaking from the Irish base in La Manga, Spain ahead of the Pinatar Cup match against Poland. "Other than that, no, I am not too picky. Anywhere I am getting game time. That's my main focus because if I am not getting game time I am not getting into the national team anymore."

McCarthy, having established herself in Vera Pauw’s starting line-up last year, is more concerned about the FAI delivering on their strategic ambitions by creating a semi-professional domestic game that offers genuine alternatives to leaving home.

“I don’t want to give anything away, but some clubs obviously look after players,” said the Galway centre half. “Maybe not every club.

"Semi-professionalism is a step we need to try and get at. We need to try to keep the best players in Ireland rather than losing them to England or abroad. It is obviously not good enough. Listen, there are steps in the right direction so hopefully that happens soon in Ireland."

Considering Galway WFC last year created the league's first ever chief executive officer in Ruth Fahy, only to abolish the role after five months, it is hard to see widespread professional standards existing anytime soon.

“Obviously when Ruth was appointed it was a great idea, she’s a fantastic person,” said McCarthy, “but some off the pitch . . . I don’t really want to get involved. For me, it’s about going training, it didn’t work out and it’s unfortunate. Hopefully they will sort it out soon.”

Liverpool captain Niamh Fahey, having swapped Galway for Arsenal in 2008, remains unconvinced that the FAI can facilitate a standard of football that offers maturing talent the option to remain in Ireland.

“We are so close to England and the UK, [where] the contracts are bigger, so it’s a bigger fish right on our doorstep,” said Fahey. “It will always be difficult to keep players at home in Ireland.

“But there are no reasons why it can’t go to a full semi-professional environment and be a really top quality league at home as well. It is a difficult one. I don’t really have the answers.”

Fahey mentions her MBA at John Moores University as a way Ziu and McCarthy could avoid the obvious pitfalls after signing pro terms with an English club.

"I suppose you take the risk, don't you? Aine [O'Gorman] went in the past to Doncaster Belles and it might not have worked out as she would have wanted but she also really enjoyed the experience.

“Pitfalls are where people go over expecting everything to go according to plan, and that it is all going to be rosy for me.

“Education and having something to fall back on alongside football - you have a lot of spare time so filling up that time is actually one of the most difficult things, and staying disciplined. So, having other interests outside football is not only healthy, it is a good distraction when the football things aren’t going so well.

“I don’t envy them but I am excited for them,” added Fahey of the new generation. “They have fantastic opportunities ahead of them. I’ve said before, the pathway is there, they can become professional footballers as soon as they want really, it’s up to them.

“I didn’t have that. I always had a dream that I wanted to play football at the highest level but I never thought of it as a profession, as a job, so yeah it’s exciting for them and to be able to push themselves and see how far they can go. The opportunities are endless now in football.”

Except at home in Ireland.