- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Mar 22
Watching jealously from America, it strikes me that the competition this year is going to be fierce. Which, of course, is how I like it…
Dramatic? You bet!
“I really don’t feel great. I feel sort of shaky. I think my blood sugar is dangerously low.”
Yes, Clare (Derry Girls ring a bell?), we know. We really do!
In fact, this must be how women’s soccer fans are feeling, if they missed out on catching one of the heart-pounding – and, yes, dramatic – matches in Week 1 of the FAI Women’s National League.
From a near-win over the champions Shelbourne by the underdog Bohs to a 6-goal Peamount matchup vs. new-kids-on-the-block Sligo, the opening weekend was everything we could have asked for – and more. Just like the hype surrounding Ed Sheeran’s new concert dates, thousands – millions? – of people around the globe are now anxiously predicting how the upcoming games in Week 2 will pan out.
Okay, I exaggerate. But there is no mistaking the fact that there is a completely different level of interest now.
Coming into the opening round, teams will have felt the pent-up anticipation, built up over weeks and weeks of intense pre-season training. A good first showing would make all the shuttle runs, early training sessions, and late-night fitness regimes worthwhile.
Inevitably, some teams will have been left feeling bitterly disappointed – Sligo were no match for the experienced Peas and Treaty United were hit hard by the relentless waves (DLR, that is). But are these results really indicative of how the upcoming season will evolve?
After all, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We have to push ourselves to maintain a high level of fitness and intensity for nearly 9 months of the year. Are the effects of summer holidays in Dubai, weekends out in Manchester, or mid-season distractions going to make at least some of these first-week results look like mere flukes? I mean, who really wants to say ‘no’ to a 2-week getaway in Ibiza during the mid-season break?
We’ve all seen it in the Premiership – those tantalising first three weeks when the likes of Aston Villa or Brentford can rule the roost. Will we see a similar syndrome here?
There were no real upsets in the first week, but the matches had an intensity that was sometimes lacking in the past. Bohemians delivered a strong showing for a team that finished in the middle of the table last season. They may have lost 1-0, but giving the title holders a serious run for their money over the full 90 minutes was impressive, creating the sense that at least one previously-ignored team might be about to make a name for themselves.
There were some new faces on the pitch for Cork vs. Galway match. My own team, Galway have added some new players during the off-season, pulling from the Good Ol’ U.S. of A and its rather nicer counterpart, Canada. The team’s Irish internationals, along with players who had previously been part of the U-17/U-19 squads, and the new transfers combined to secure what was a really good, if not overly dramatic, 3-0 win.
Lyndsey McKey provided two assists (including one back-heel – she says she did it on purpose, and based on training every day, we believe her… mostly). And Julie-Ann Russell – with a deft left-footed finish – delivered the ideal end to a tough second half during which Cork had some great chances at the other end. At least this is what I could divine from the LOI TV stream, coming patchily to me approximately 3,268 miles (or should I say 5,000 kilometers?) away in my Philadelphia apartment.
Anyone have a distant Irish cousin I can marry for citizenship?
Seeing those matches, and the results, suggests that this year is going to be something of a dog fight. On a given day, potentially anyone can win.
Remember The Miracle on Ice? Or Leicester winning the 2016 Prem? The WNL will surely have a dramatic story fit for a feature-length flick with the drama coming down the tracks this season.
I mean, what is a sport without ration of the unexpected?
I don’t actually mean dressing room fights, coach and player disagreements, and knocking someone’s boots from their cubby before the match – though these can be entertaining in their own way. I’m talking about rookies coming in and scoring bangers, keepers making penalty saves – and those dramatic moments when big upsets happen.
Can this be the year Ireland finds the next Christian Pulisic? A diamond in the rough who came all the way from Pennsylvania (to save you Google-ing, it’s close to New York), he has broken into the first team at Chelsea.
With WNL players now being eyed-up by top teams in the UK, it definitely is a possibility. As someone who has lived in Manchester, London and Wargrave (I was one of 12 residents), the UK is arguably the best place to really be seen. But I got deported, so maybe don’t take my advice…
Over the past few years, we have witnessed English teams poaching some of our league’s biggest stars – steady defenders, consistent midfielders and prolific strikers alike. With the new exposure being given to the WNL, the rising interest, and the young talent that has been emerging, it’s no wonder that at least some of Ireland’s finest footy players are going to what is one of the best leagues in the world, just a one-hour flight away. Or maybe 1 hour 15-minutes if you’re travelling from Knock — have fun waiting for your flight in the cozy cafeteria in this friendly one-room airport. Security is a breeze.
I tend to keep an eye on the stats, and with players grabbing wild numbers in just the first match of the season — hello, Sarah McEvitt with 3 assists and Abby McCarthy with 7 saves – the appetite has surely been whetted.
So, maybe next weekend, turn off the tenth re-run of Derry Girls and check out one of the most interesting soccer leagues, ideally in person – it won’t disappoint.
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