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Eleanor Ryan Doyle celebrates her second goal against South Korea at the 2019 World University Games. Tommy Dickson/INPHO
ireland 2029

‘Now's the time to do it’: Could Ireland build the world’s most successful women’s soccer league?

The commitment is there – but where’s the investment? We explore another big idea on Ireland 2029.

A LOT CAN happen in 10 years. Where is Ireland going, and what will life be like here in the year 2029? Welcome to Ireland 2029: Shaping Our Future, a podcast series from

Over 10 episodes, we’re partnering with Volkswagen to bring you 10 big ideas that could change Ireland for the better. Each week, we talk to someone about an idea they truly believe could work, and find out whether it’s practical, or whether it’s a non-runner.

In the seventh episode of Ireland 2029, we ask: Could Ireland build the world’s most successful women’s football league by 2029?

The pathways were very unclear, soccer-wise. You could play it at a regional level, but unless you were in with an international squad, in the underage ranks, you didn’t know where to go.

Growing up, sports writer Emma Duffy of was a keen soccer player with her local team in Cavan. But, like many of her peers, Duffy ended up committing to ladies Gaelic football toward the end of her underage playing career.

There was – and is – an unavoidable choice to be made by promising young women’s soccer players in Ireland, so under-resourced is the sport around the country. “It was either go to Dublin to play your soccer, or quit,” says Duffy.

Fifa is aiming for 60 million women footballers worldwide by 2026, doubling the current number of active players.

It’s a seven-year goal the Football Association of Ireland is also working toward on an Irish level, according to its 2019 Review and Analysis of Football Ireland. But for Ireland to reach a result at anywhere near that scale, a massive increase in investment would be needed.

Currently there are over 19,000 women’s female youth players of the sport in Ireland, but that figure drops to around 4,800 in the adult ranks, according to the FAI. The country does have a Women’s National League, but it includes just eight clubs from six counties around the country, including the defending champions Wexford Youths FC and the current league-toppers Peamount United.

For recently retired Irish international Karen Duggan, setting up a proper women’s national league, with feeder clubs from every county in Ireland, is a no-brainer. And given Ireland’s stellar performance in the 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers – two 2-o wins and a 0-0 draw before finally losing out to the Netherlands –  there’s a massive sense of momentum to draw upon at the minute:

“It is a big buzz thing now, so now’s the time to do it. We’re just off the back of a massive World Cup. Just capitalise on it.” But, she says, a globally successful national league can’t just grow out of nothing:

“It really does need to become someone’s agenda, someone needs to take it by the scruff of the neck and just run with it.”

Sports writer Eoin O’Callaghan agrees that, in order to build and sustain a globally successful Irish women’s league, there needs to be long-term commitment. Not just the existing commitment from players and coaching staff, but commitment from those holding the purse strings too:

“If you really want to work at something, you need to invest in it, but it cannot be about investing in it on a Monday and by Friday all the money’s gone,” he says in the latest episode of Ireland 2029.

Want to know more? Tune into the seventh episode of Ireland 2029: Shaping Our Future, which is live right now:

Full list of providers here 

Ireland 2029 / SoundCloud

Ireland 2029 is a podcast from, in partnership with Volkswagen. This episode was put together by presenter Sinead O’Carroll, producer Emma Duffy, editor Nicky Ryan, series producer Órla Ryan and executive producer Christine Bohan. With thanks to Paula Lyne and our contributors.

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