Evan Treacy/INPHO Chloe Mustaki (front row, far left) and her Shelbourne side.
# On the box
'The fact that it's taken 10 years to get to this point is a bit sad, but we need to be grateful for the changes'
Shelbourne’s Chloe Mustaki on recent improvements in the Women’s National League ahead of tomorrow’s historic clash, live on TG4.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 1st 2021, 9:07 PM

FOR THE VERY first time, Women’s National League [WNL] football will be shown free-to-air on Irish television this weekend.

The TG4 cameras will pitch up in Tolka Park for the meeting of Shelbourne and DLR Waves tomorrow evening as more history is made, in this, the league’s 10th season.

Chloe Mustaki will be involved for the Reds, as they look to keep the pace with league leaders Peamount United atop the table — and she she continues her comeback from an 18-month lay-off due to an Anterior Cruciate Ligament [ACL] knee injury.

“It’s a massive week not just for us but the league, broadly speaking,” the defender, who has also played for Waves and Peamount since the WNL’s inaugural season of 2011, and has enjoyed stints overseas in between, tells The42.

“To have live coverage on TV of the Women’s National League is something that, to be honest, I didn’t see happening this year. And that’s a bit sad, because it’s been 10 years or so now that the Women’s National League has been going.

“The fact that it’s taken this long to get to this point is a bit sad in a way, but at the end of the day, we just need to look forward and be grateful for the changes that have come this year. There have been quite a few across the league.

“It’s fantastic and we’re all really excited – as I said, not just for ourselves, but for all the girls and all the staff across the league who put in so many hours week in, week out and work really hard. To be able to have that recognition in this form is brilliant.”

“It’s a big game for us as well, because we’re coming off a defeat against Peas, which was really, really hard for us to take,” she adds. “It’s important that we bounce back now this weekend and keep the fight for the league title alive.

“Obviously, we’ll be coming up against a tough Waves side, who themselves will be gunning for a win after two defeats that they probably would have hoped to get results from. It should be a great game and hopefully a good spectacle for those watching at home.”

Those tuning in will likely have seen little-to-no WNL action over the past few years.

This season, it’s been available to watch live and free on LOI TV, but up until that monumental move, just the FAI Cup final was broadcast on RTÉ.

Ireland’s U19 captain for the 2014 Euros, Mustaki, like so many involved, knows the onus is on players to perform; the spectacle and showcasing of quality and standards in the league of huge importance.

“Look, obviously it’s fantastic that the cup final has been televised in the past couple of years, but that’s just one game and you never know what will happen on the day; whether it will be a good competitive game or not. Cup games are always a bit of a mystery.

“But at least now, to have a bit more consistent coverage of the league, it’ll show everyone around the country the improvements that women’s football has seen over the past few years here in Ireland. Obviously, it still has a long way to go but there definitely have been improvements, especially in standards and the quality of football. It will be great to be able to showcase that going forward now.”

A string of positive developments were made ahead of the 2021 season, off-field progress and growth matching impressive on-field strides and improvements.

A reminder of those, away from the TG4 deal and LOI TV: SSE Airtricity stepped up as sponsors, alongside the men’s equivalent, following notable struggles in that department over the past few years. An U19 tier was added to bridge the gap from U17 to senior, while prize money was bumped by 141%.

Everything is certainly on the up, Mustaki nods, relaying an important conversation she had with her mother a few days ago.

“To be honest, the big thing that I notice this year – and I think a lot of players will feel the same way – is this is the first year no player has had to pay to play, which is just crazy. I mean, it’s crazy, but it’s brilliant and it’s a great step forward.

“That alone is massive, because it stops individuals from getting involved and continuing to play. Obviously some girls are working and to have to give up several hundred a season to play is a bit off-putting.

kellie-brennan-and-chloe-mustaki Evan Treacy / INPHO Mustaki tracking Athlone's Kellie Brennan last month. Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“I know most clubs try and bring on sponsors, and do try and run some form of fundraiser or something to bring in funds. Of course things can always be arranged to have players involved if they can’t come up with that money themselves, but it’s a stress that shouldn’t be on players and clubs at this level.

“And if really, we want to be making strides forward in the league and in women’s football here in Ireland, that’s the bare minimum. The fact that it’s taken 10 years to get to this point is a bit disappointing, but at the end of the day, as I said earlier in the conversation, you just need to look forward and be grateful for the changes that have come at this point.”

That was the main thing she noticed this year, “delighted” with the shift, and really observing a sea change through pre-season as she focused on her rehab.

“There was so much excitement around the league starting back,” Mustaki, a pundit with RTÉ on occasion, adds. “A bit more excitement than I had noticed in any previous year.

“There have been a lot of changes, a change in mood, a change in attitude towards women’s soccer around the country this year.

“It’s all really positive and encouraging, and especially off the back of hopefully some more good results going forward in the international squad. It’s all great and obviously after Ireland beating Australia last week, it’s looking good.

“It’s on the up, and hopefully we can just keep that trajectory going forward.”

Shelbourne v DLR Waves, Saturday 5pm, Tolka Park; live on TG4.

- A feature interview with Chloe Mustaki will follow on The42 tomorrow morning.

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