The wait is almost over for the SSE Airtricity Women's National League to return with the 2022 season kicking off on Saturday, March 5th.
Sligo Rovers come onboard to make it a 10-team format and excitement is building with every game available to watch for FREE via LOITV.
League of Ireland Director Mark Scanlon said: "I'm looking forward to the 2022 SSE Airtricity Women's National League getting underway with five great games to kick things off on Saturday.
"Women's football, and the League itself, has made some significant strides forward in the last few years and we aim to keep that going with every game available on LOITV, nine games set to be shown on TG4, the EVOKE.ie FAI Women's Cup Final on RTÉ2 and the return of spectators to stadiums.
"On and off the pitch, the continued development of the League is of paramount importance and that is reflected in the FAI Strategy 2022-2025. We all need to work together to ensure that we achieve our target - players, officials, administrators, sponsors, stakeholders and volunteers.
"There is plenty to look forward to with Sligo Rovers coming in as the 10th team, Shelbourne going into UEFA Women's Champions League qualifiers, challenges to build on record attendances and hopefully another title race to remember. I wish everyone involved the very best of luck and hope to see you at a game soon."
Athlone Town expect to be treated as the underdogs and that suits them just fine. Don’t be surprised, however, if they fail to follow any script that others might have penned for them.
Since their introduction into the Women’s National League in 2020, the Midlanders have developed a resilient streak that has seen them frustrate teams, pull off notable wins and gradually climb higher up the table. This season should be along the lines.
A number of talented players have moved on, including Kayla Brady, Emma Donohoe and Katelyn Keogh, but manager Tommy Hewitt is not one to dwell on the past; he focuses on what is to come. That is why Athlone can be a team to watch this year.
The capture of Gillian Keenan from Treaty United is a shrewd one and she should chip in with goals and assists, while the continued development of Republic of Ireland Women’s Under-19 internationals Melissa O’Kane and Emily Corbet suggests that they have two of the League’s rising stars.
Athlone’s ambition will be to break into the top six and enjoy an extended run in the EVOKE.ie FAI Women’s Cup. It won’t be easy with teams around them having similar aims, but don’t discount what this team can achieve.
Last Season: 7th
Key Player: Muireann Devaney
One To Watch: Emily Corbet
For Bohemians, they will be feeling that the only way is up after finishing ninth and then sixth in their last two seasons in the Women’s National League.
Manager Sean Byrne, and his backroom staff, have done a fantastic job to date. Now, though, they face a new challenge to see if they can finish even higher in the table and become more consistent.
The Gypsies have strengthened in the key areas with Rachael Kelly returning from Sweden to give Courtney Maguire competiton in the goalkeeping department, Katie Burdis and Fiona Ryan adding options to defence, Ciara Maher and Kira Bates Crosbie bulking up the midfield and Sinead Taylor giving Erica Burke a strike partner to play off.
The midfield of duo of Maher and Bates Crosbie are of particular interest. Maher had been with DLR Waves, while Bates Crosbie was breaking through at Wexford Youths, both should be regular starters and help Bohemians to maintain posession of the ball for longer periods.
Taylor is a proven goalscorer in this League and if she can hit double figures then the Dublin outfit might be in for a season to remember. Burke, however, is the one who can become something special and this – her second season – will be interesting to watch.
Last Season: 6th
Paul Farrell knows that he has a big job on his hands at Cork City but he wouldn’t want it any other way with the 2022 Women’s National League providing all kinds of possibilities.
Farrell may have pulled off something of a coup in bringing former Treaty United boss Niall Connolly to the club to back him up. Two young minds is better than one so it will be interesting to see how they set the team up to play.
As has been the case for a few years now, Cork can rely on the experienced quartet of Ciara McNamara, Danielle Burke, Nathalie O’Brien and Katie McCarthy – all of whom are leaders in their own right.
Some of the younger players showed signs of maturing last season, such as Lauren Walsh, Eva Mangan and Laura Shine. They will need to progress again in order to help The Leesiders, who do have some exciting forward options in Shine, Christina Dring and Nadine Seward.
There haven’t been too many new arrivals. Goalkeeper Hannah Walsh will provide competition for Abby McCarthy, midfielder Aoibhín Donnelly showed promise at Under-19 level while Aoife Cronin will be a good addition having signed from Treaty United.
Last Season: 8th
Breaking into the top four was an achievement for DLR Waves last season, but can they go even higher and compete for the Women’s National League title this year?
The Dublin side certainly wasted little time to bolstering their squad with some notable signings wrapped up before any of the other clubs had completed their 2021 review. Manager Graham Kelly wanted to add strength in depth and it appears that he has done just that.
Defender Lynn Craven is an excellent addition from Wexford Youths, while Mia Dodd and Sophie Watters add quality to the midfield following their arrivals from Shelbourne and Bohemians respectively. Up front, Sarah McKevitt leaves Cork City with the intention of bringing goals to this team.
Kelly’s toughest job will be keeping all of the players happy as well as discovering his best starting XI. The loss of defender Niamh Barnes could be negated by the return from injury of Louise Corrigan, while newcomers Orlagh Fitzpatrick and Lovisa Lindquist add options in attack.
This is a big year for DLR because if Kelly can get the balance right then there is no reason why they cannot have realistic hopes of going for the League title.
Last Season: 4th
Alan Murphy may be new to the Women’s National League but that won’t dilute his ambitions of wanting to lead Galway WFC to their best ever finish.
The new manager has picked up three players from other clubs, including Jenna Slattery from Treaty United, and also recruited six players from the United States who are relatively unknown as the season prepares to kick off.
If the American players can prove to be a hit then the club will have pulled off something of a coup, but they can still rely on a backbone of solid players in the likes of Savannah McCarthy, Emma Starr, Julie-Ann Russell and Lynsey McKey.
This season should also see some of the club’s younger players make giant leaps forward in terms of their development with Therese Kinnevey, Shauna Brennan, Kate Slevin, Chloe Singleton and Abbie Callinan all set to come under the spotlight.
Galway have a terrific record of producing local players, so expect that to continue with Kate Thompson and Eve Dossen next in line to step up. They have also promoted Phil Trill to assistant manager after time spent doing wonders with their Under-19s and his knowledge should help Murphy settle in quickly.
Last Season: 5th
The final day collapse of last season is something that Peamount United boss James O’Callaghan will be keen to move on from by focusing on a title charge for 2022.
The Peas still have one of the strongest squads in the League and they should be up there challenging, from the very start. It is all about how their experienced players react and get going again.
Should they choose to give opportunities to younger players then they have a host of talented stars in the making, such as goalkeeper Summer Lawless, left-back Tara O’Hanlon, versatile defender Chloe Smullen, midfielder Sara Power and forward Michelle Doonan.
O’Callaghan has never been afraid to place his trust in youth, but expect him to mix it up amongst a senior core with Tiegan Ruddy slotting in at centre-back, Karen Duggan running the midfield and the goalscoring duo of Áine O’Gorman and Stephanie Roche leading from the front.
Two familiar faces in Grace Murray and Jetta Berrill return to the club to provide different options, but the signing that has people most excited is that of Donegal forward Erin McLaughlin, who can play anywhere across the front three.
Last Season: 2nd
All eyes will be on the reigning Women’s National League champions as they set about retaining the title for the first time in their history.
Noel King lost both Jamie Finn and Emily Whelan midway through last season, while Ciara Grant and Saoirse Noonan have followed them to the UK since. Those departures definitely weaken Shelbourne overall, but it also presents opportunities for others to step up.
Midfielder Megan Smyth-Lynch has arrived from rivals Peamount United and should provide some playmaking skills, while the relatively unknown forward Jemma Quinn has impressed in pre-season and could be the find of the season.
Republic of Ireland Women’s Under-17 ace Aoife Kelly has also joined and she is a player to keep an eye out for as The Reds will turn to youth this season with Abbie Larkin, Leah Doyle and Lia O’Leary hoping to have the kind of impact that Jessie Stapleton did last term.
There is no doubt that Shels have everything required to compete again – a lot of observers are expecting 16-year-old Larkin to provide the goals – but they must also balance the addition of UEFA Women’s Champions League games.
Last Season: 1st
For the latest club to join the Women’s National League, this will be a year of self discovery as Sligo Rovers look to find their feet in the top tier of women’s football in Ireland.
At least they were able to start off with a marquee signing in hometown girl Emma Hansberry. The classy midfielder has been there and done it with both Castlebar Celtic and Wexford Youths. Expect the play to run through her.
In the forwards line, Donegal youngster Emma Doherty has the makings of a real star and will finish chances if given the right service. The same can be said of Gemma McGuinness but she will be at her best when attacking defenders with the ball at her feet.
Lauren Boles is a hard-working, intelligent midfielder and Amy Hyndman has some experience in the League having arrived from Athlone Town, but the majority of this squad are fresh-faced newcomers which means that they can surprise people and should not fear the task ahead.
Sligo simply need to focus on short-term goals. The first of which is getting their first League win. Once that is achieved then they can gradually add to their list of first-season targets.
Key Player: Emma Hansberry
The winds of change have breezed through Limerick to give Treaty United a fresh new look going into the 2022 Women’s National League season.
Don O’Riordan takes over as manager and brings with him a huge amount of experience. He previously had a stint with Galway WFC in the League but his knowledge of the game overall should stand to him.
A lot of players have left the club, most notably Jenna Slattery, Aoife Cronin, Tara O’Gorman and Rebecca Horgan. It will be interesting to see how Treaty replace them and if they can find some new star players.
The promotion of certain players from their Under-19 squad – such as Jesse Mendez’s younger sister Alix – will help and so too will the experience of veteran goalkeeper Trish Fennelly-Hunt.
Up front, Treaty have an exciting player in Heidi O’Sullivan who could emerge as their answer to Aoife Horgan, who left last season to pursue a scholarship to the United States.
Last Season: 9th
Glory will be the target for Wexford Youths in 2022 after finishing last year as EVOKE.ie FAI Women’s Cup winners and ending the Women’s National League on a high.
It’s strange to look back at how good Wexford were in 2021 – particularly when Stephen Quinn stepped in to replace Tom Elmes – and yet they were just that bit short of challenging for the title. This time it should be different.
Wexford still have the bulk of their experienced players, plus new stars have emerged in Della Doherty, Aoibheann Clancy, Teegan Lynch and, potentially, Becky Watkins. Oh and Ellen Molloy is still on 17 years old!
The arrival of Watkins from Peamount United solves their striker headache, but captain Kylie Murphy is still expected to play up front – whether that is as false 9 or roving No 10 in not yet clear.
The trio of Meabh Russell, Emma Donohoe and Grace Fitzpatrick Ryan should provide defensive cover. However, this team’s chances of winning silverware will rest of the axis of Lauren Dwyer, Nicola Sinnott, Edel Kennedy, Ciara Rossiter and Murphy.
Last Season: 3rd