Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO Tom Elmes.
# domestic matters
Vastly-experienced Elmes suggests 'joined-up thinking' to tackle WNL and LOI challenges
‘It’s not just a challenge for our league, it’s a challenge for the men’s league as well – if players want to go and earn a living, it’s generally abroad.’

TOM ELMES IS well placed to speak about Irish women’s football as a whole.

Having managed Wexford Youths in the Women’s National League [WNL] and been a key figure on the IT Carlow Sports Course, he’s now employed by the FAI.

Elmes is Vera Pauw’s assistant manager with the senior team, and head coach of the U16s. He’s also currently on the Uefa Pro License course.

There’s an “awful lot of work” going into promoting the domestic league, he says, with significant strides made off the field in 2021 from LOI TV to TG4 coming on board, on top of many other developments.

“Things are happening, it’s small steps, but it’s definitely positive in the last while,” Elmes, 36, nods.

Player retention has become a big talking point over the past while, however, with many stars making the move to England, and further afield, over the past few seasons.  The Women’s Super League [WSL] is one attractive route, with 12 Irish internationals playing within.

Birmingham native Elmes says it’s “important” that the challenge of keeping young talent on these shores is faced head on, with work underway behind the scenes to develop a structure.

“I think long-term if we can have our players playing here domestically, it’s obviously going to be of benefit to us. At the moment you have to appreciate that if they want to have a career out of the game, they sometimes have to look abroad.

“One of the things with the younger players is you’ve got to try to support them around their education, get them into third-level and support them around that as much as we can. That’s one way at the moment that we can keep them here. The league is growing slowly but there is more that we need to try to push on with definitely.”

Changes and improvements, so. And no better person to speak about what’s needed, given his involvements with club, college and country over the past few years.

“I think the work that is happening underneath at the moment is going to pay a lot of benefits soon,” Elmes nods. “We need to grow the profile of the league in terms of the quality of the players and more of them.

“When we see the age of the players in the centres of excellence now. When they come up to play senior football… at the moment, you can argue there’s Wexford, Shelbourne and Peamount — not that they go untested, but they seem to be a distance away from the rest of the league. You’d like to see that gap closed, you’d like to see it more competitive.

“When you look across the nine centres that we have set up now at U15, in a couple of years you’d be hoping in a couple of years these would be pushing into senior set-ups, which will help grow the profile of the league as well. It’s not just a challenge for our league, it’s a challenge for the men’s league as well –  if players want to go and earn a living, it’s generally abroad. Maybe some joined-up thinking would be the way forward.”

A former Wexford Youths player himself — he was the first-ever League of Ireland goalscorer for the Ferrycarraig Park outfit — Elmes struggles to pick just one single best change to improve the WNL in tandem with the national team.

To have even one centrally-contracted player per club could be a starting point as calls for a semi-professional league heighten.

“There’s positives around that but probably a lot of challenges as well. I don’t know if the FAI are in a position financially to look in that area. It’s tough to put it down to one thing.

“I think the home-based [sessions] is a really good opportunity for us, we need to grow that. At the moment we’re bringing the players in before camps just to bring them up in their intensity and prepare them for coming into camp. Bringing in these stronger players more often is definitely of benefit. [Doing more] is something we’re trying to push for, if it allows for us to do it.”

tom-elms-and-vera-pauw Morgan Treacy / INPHO Elmes with Vera Pauw. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

(The plan for 2022 is one senior home-based session per month, with regional ones being looked at, along with intertwining with underage.)

Involved with coaching Girls In Greens sides at senior and underage level, Elmes predicts “good things” in the future, optimistic about what’s coming through.

“It’s definitely looking at things in a long-term view as well. You see some of the players involved at 19s, they were involved in qualifiers there recently and played two fantastic games against England and Switzerland. Excellent performances against two real top nations and our players didn’t look out of place at all.

“So that’s really positive and you see the performance of our 17s in their qualifying campaign over in Norway. They were fantastic to go top of the group and beat Norway in that way, so there’s lots of good things happening, there’s lots of good players coming through.

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“But it starts off a lot younger. We’re identifying the players and bringing them into those centres of excellence and having the time with them to develop them and getting them in at 16s. The grouping with myself again is a real positive group and we’re really optimistic about what they can do.”

And likewise with the senior national team, as he explained yesterday.

2021 has been a memorable one on and off the pitch, as they sit second in Group A at the halfway point of the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign, with pay parity achieved and two massive women’s exclusive sponsors secured in Sky and Cadbury’s.

That, alone, encapsulates the growth of the game.

“It’s been taken a lot more seriously,” Elmes concludes. “Anyone I ever speak to now just compliments the game itself; how the game is played and the quality of the game. Even watching Arsenal and Leicester the other night, there was a good tempo to the game.

“Not just in our countries, it’s improving in other countries as well. You see that with our international games — how competitive they are and the quality of the football. I just think people on the outside are seeing it as something that’s worth investing in now, the profile is growing and growing.”



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