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'One page a week on women's sport is not going to detract from newspapers' readership'

Wexford Youths player Ruth Fahy discusses the challenges facing women’s football in Ireland.

Shelbourne's Siobhan Killeen (left) and Ruth Fahy of Wexford Youths (right) pictured during last season's FAI Cup final.
Shelbourne's Siobhan Killeen (left) and Ruth Fahy of Wexford Youths (right) pictured during last season's FAI Cup final.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ALMOST A YEAR ago to the day, Ruth Fahy was involved in one of the biggest games of her football career.

Fahy’s Wexford Youths were taking on Shelbourne in the Women’s FAI Cup final.

After a closely fought encounter at the Aviva Stadium ended 2-2 after extra time, Wexford subsequently triumphed 4-2 in a penalty shootout.

Fahy, who can play defence and midfield, and joined her first club (Salthill Devon) at the age of 10, scored one of the successful penalties on a memorable afternoon for the Ferrycarrig Park outfit.

Last November’s dramatic victory was part of an incredible season for both the player and the club. Wexford ultimately secured a domestic treble, winning the Women’s National League (WNL) and the WNL Shield, while Fahy earned a spot on the WNL team of the season for 2015-16.

Next weekend, however, when Wexford Youths renew their rivalry with Shelbourne in the 2016 FAI Cup final, Fahy will not feature.

The Galway native, who has also missed Wexford Youths’ Champions League adventure as they bowed out of the competition following a 2-1 loss to Gintra of Lithuania, is currently out of action with a serious cruciate injury that she picked up at the end of last season.

Consequently, at the moment, Fahy can’t even walk properly, and is unlikely to be back in action for another year at least.

“I tore my cruciate and tore pretty much everything I could tear in my left knee,” she tells The42. “I think it was an overuse injury over years.

“I do want to come back next season just to prove to myself that I can play at that level again… You appreciate (football) more when you don’t have it.”

The injury was picked during a casual five-a-side-game in Galway and occurred in an innocuous fashion, as she simply stretched her left foot out in an attempt to control a bouncing ball and landed awkwardly on it.

I just felt a collapse in my left knee and I knew something bad had happened,” she recalls.

The 28-year-old believes the injury was the culmination of several knocks she had suffered to her knee over the course of a long, hard campaign, while the season ending and her resultant failure to stick to recovery protocols during her time off didn’t help matters either.

“If someone told me what I had done at the time, I think I would be feeling more pain at the time. I didn’t know it was that bad,” Fahy adds.

Ruth Fahy Fahy represented Team Ireland at the 2009 World University Games. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

And while her football career is on hold for now, life hasn’t exactly slowed for Fahy as a result. Her passion for the sport remains undimmed and she is taking part in this interview having just attended a Uefa Workshop on the development of women’s football in Ireland.

The aim of the conference was a subject close to her heart — to bring together club personnel, administrators, stakeholders, volunteers, and members of the media to discuss the issues surrounding the women’s game, particularly on how to improve and maximise coverage of the sport in Ireland.

Indeed, the women’s game is something Fahy is determined to promote at every available opportunity. The former Castlebar Celtic player writes a weekly football column for the Irish Mirror, while she also currently works as a ‎legal assistant at the Football Association of Ireland, having graduated from University of Limerick with a degree in law in 2011.

“I kind of did a bit of travelling, worked in a few different industries and played soccer obviously, so that took up a lot of my time,” she says.

It’s only now I’m looking ahead and selecting a career that I really want to do.”

And while her future remains somewhat uncertain, Fahy is hopeful it will involve football on some level.

“Since I was young, I always wanted to work in the FAI. I actually did a postgrad in sports law with the intention of working for a sports governing body. Ideally, it would have been the FAI or in a dream world, Fifa, Uefa or someone like that.

I’m getting (to where I want to be). I’ve been involved in football as a player, so now I’m in it from a totally different perspective.”

Having participated in a three-hour workshop in which various ways to promote and expand coverage of the women’s game were discussed in detail, she is as optimistic as ever about its future.

“I really enjoyed tonight — I thought it was really good. I didn’t really know what to expect when I came in. When I first walked in the door, I suppose I was worried and anxious that there would only be a handful of people here.

“But there was quite a good spread among the room. There were a lot of vocal individuals here, there was a lot of good content shared, a lot of ideas and a lot of people who are quite passionate about women’s football.

You can see the limitations. You can see why things aren’t the way you want them to be and it’s not so much that there’s not the people in the FAI to do it, it’s (the lack of) resources and budget.

“Am I hopeful the situation is going to improve? I’m not hopeful, I’m certain. I’ve always said this, but once our senior team qualifies for a major tournament, it’s going to explode. Until that happens, it’s still going to grow.”

Stephanie Roche Fahy believes there are several other Irish female footballers who could follow Stephanie Roche's path to stardom. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Women’s football is a pillar of the FAI’s strategic plan outlined for the next four years, and Fahy is optimistic that serious strides will have been made by 2020, explaining that there are many more potential stars like Stephanie Roche out there waiting to be discovered by the sporting public at large.

And journalists, as much as anyone else, have a key role to play in implementing positive change.

“The media prides itself on playing quite a large part in influencing society, but is part of society now not to promote gender equality?

I can’t gather how editors think even just giving one page to women’s sport is going to detract from their newspaper’s readership. I’m adamant that it won’t.”

The USA has long been the standard-bearer for women’s soccer, with its popularity genuinely comparable to the sport’s equivalent male version in the States. Irish football can therefore learn much from their counterparts across the Atlantic, according to Fahy.

“The way the US market women’s soccer is incredible. It’s very impressive. Even just by watching the games, the quality of everything is top class.

It’s the way the players conduct themselves really, they are proper professionals. Obviously women’s players in Ireland aren’t used to acting like that, so maybe a bit more education, a bit more interaction with the players on how we can promote ourselves a bit better and how the clubs can do that (would help).

“When I was in America, when I told people I played soccer, they were incredibly impressed. They thought it was amazing, a brilliant thing. There’s an awful lot of respect for women’s soccer in the US whereas that doesn’t really happen back here.”

So does Fahy feel women’s football is looked down upon to an extent in Ireland?

I think it used to be. I’ve definitely had some negative responses in the past when I said ‘I play football’. Or maybe not so much negative, but more like pulling the piss… I think that’s decreased a lot recently.

“But in America, it’s the way football is marketed, the way the players look, when you watch them play, the young girls want to play, they want to be like them, they want to be at that standard.

“And so maybe women’s football in Ireland can be marketed and promoted a little bit better, and more professionally, to inspire younger girls to be like us.”

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Paul Fennessy

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