Since it's inception in 2011, the Women’s National League has been accompanied with the familiar pay-to-play aspect which we have become so accustomed to witness in most elite women's sports competitions across Ireland. While these stars get the opportunity to play the sport they love, often gracing our football pitches comes at a personal cost which they have to foot themselves.
Unlike their male counterparts, the majority of women involved in the nine teams in the Women's National League, often have to contribute more than just their skills and time, but also an annual contribution ranging from €350 to €500 as well as travel expenses.
While Shelbourne and Bohemians have led the way in removing such a barrier in past years by acting as the anomalies to that rhetoric, Wexford Youths have now followed suit. The club have secured a three-year sponsorship deal with Energia which will include membership fees and day to day expenses covered for the entire squad.
If anyone is to give an insight into how valuable this is, Wexford's iconic captain, Kylie Murphy is the perfect candidate. Having been there from the very start, the dynamic midfielder has spent the last ten-years of her life dedicated to her club.
With four Women's National League titles and three FAI cups to her name, the 32-year old midfielder knows the significance of the gesture which recognises the their sacrifices and achievements.
Murphy describes the news as “immense” in the struggle for parity between the men’s and women’s teams.
“I think everybody's looking to sponsor the men and we kind of get left to the side a little bit sometimes” she says.
“I've been very fortunate to have my own sponsor Eddie Brennan Bouncy Castles, but unfortunately not every girl is like that and not every girl is as lucky as I am. I'd normally be up in the height of it now trying to help my teammates if any of the girls are struggling to get their money in”.
With pre-season firmly in motion as the league is set to start at the end of the month, in years gone by it is ludicrous to think that players of such an standard but yet voluntary nature, would be focusing on fundraising to play rather than their training regime. Yet this may come as a surprise, but this is still the case for some Women's National League teams at this moment.
? Three weeks to go! pic.twitter.com/iMhaRa0ide
— Wexford Youths Women (@YouthsWomen) March 6, 2021
Murphy in her delight that the “pressure” of such financial arrangements have been removed with a sponsorship such as Energia’s hopes that it will have a “knock on effect” for the rest of the league and women’s soccer in general.
“I think we're after making huge strides in the last couple of months between Energia and the SSE Airtricity sponsorship” the Graigue woman says.
“We're going to be on the Watch League of Ireland website so the games are all going to be streamed, which is amazing because obviously when you think back to the 2020 campaign, if you can't see you, you can't be it”.
As a child, Murphy who now has over 200 appearances for Wexford Youths, recalls that the only female sportsperson she remembers being on TV is that of Olympian Sonia O’Sullivan and “that’s not okay”.
As part of a new agreement with the FAI, The Women's National League games will be available to watch for free on LOITV - a significant chance to get more eyes onto the league.
“I suppose it’s just about getting the Women's National League out there a little bit more now and pushing the media side of because what's been done now is fantastic, but we just need to keep driving it” she says.
During this lockdown Murphy and her Wexford Youths teammates have been granted access to continue training under the current “elite sport” rule.
As someone who commends her colleagues, managers and coaches as “family”, the 32-year-old feels very “fortunate” to be able to continue training with them despite the uncertainty of the Coronavirus restrictions.
“They are my closest, closest friends, you know, they mean everything to me. So to be able to put on that armband and lead them out, it means the absolute world to me” she says.
“It's not just on the pitch for me. I try to help them off it as well. And it's not off it as in training, it's off it in their personal lives, if they need anything.”
Looking forward to the season which kicks off with a game at home to reigning champions Peamount United, the Youth’s captain says as always their “focus is the top” and “if you want to know where you're at, that's who you want to be playing.”
While audiences will eagerly be watching the “good old battle[s]” such as the above that Murphy describes, it will be in the good faith that women’s soccer is moving in the right direction with it’s sponsorship opportunities and coverage on the Watch League of Ireland website with hopes that things will continue to progress in that manner.