Girls Centre of Excellence providing clear pathway
There was genuine excitement in FAI HQ this week when Castleknock Hotel were unveiled as the primary sponsor of the Girls Centre of Excellence because it allowed the spotlight to shine on one of the country's most essential programmes.
Boosting participation numbers in women's football has been a target for the Football Association of Ireland for some time - it is part of the FAI 2016-2020 Strategy - and progress has been made through the likes of Aviva Soccer Sisters, Fota Island Resort Gaynor Cup, FIFA Live Your Goals, and SportsDirect FAI Summer Soccer Schools programmes.
However, it is the Girls Centre of Excellence - previously known as the Emerging Talent Programme - that has been able to provide a clear pathway for elite players at Under 12, U-14 & U-16 level with eight different centres located around the country.
Dave Connell, FAI Head of Women's Underage Development, explained that the work being done to help players hone their technical skills is paying off with more girls going on to represent Ireland and compete in the Continental Tyres Women's National League.
"The Girls Centre of Excellence caters for approximately 500 girls in various locations. The girls take part in training sessions, delivered by top class coaches, once a week on a 14-week programme running from July through to September," said Connell.
"We also select certain players to take part in special training sessions at the FAI National Training Centre, while there are 10 one-day goalkeeping training camps for the best goalkeepers from the three different age groups.
"A lot of the current Republic of Ireland Women's Senior players came through the centres, so it is a credit to the programme - along with the players' own talent & dedication - that their development was given the sufficient coaching that it required and they are now benefitting from that.
"Almost every player in our most recent Under-15 Schools, U-16, U-17 and U-19 women's squads have been part of the centres and that is a massive endorsement for the work being done all around the country by our coaches to develop elite level players."
FAI CEO John Delaney, who attended the launch of the sponsorship announcement with Castleknock Hotel, is enthused by the progress being made in the centres and that it is now transferring over to the international scene with more girls rising up to the level required.
Girls Centre of Excellence Graduates
Republic of Ireland Women's Senior Team
Cork: Amanda Budden, Megan Connolly, Karen Duggan, Denise O'Sullivan
Donegal: Tyler Toland, Roma McLaughlin, Amy Boyle-Carr, Amber Barrett
Dublin: Amanda McQuillan, Katie McCabe, Dearbhaile Beirne, Leanne Kiernan, Isibeal Atkinson, Aine O'Gorman
Republic of Ireland Women's Under-19s
Cork: Danielle Burke, Saoirse Noonan
Dublin: Naoisha McAloon, Erica Turner, Niamh Farrelly, Lauryn O'Callaghan, Tiegan Ruddy, Alex Kavanagh, Lynn Craven, Kate Mooney, Alannah McEvoy, Naima Chemaou
Galway/Mayo: Sadbdh Doyle, Sinead Donovan, Aoife Thompson, Lucia Lobata
Midlands: Chloe Singleton
Wexford: Orla Casey
Republic of Ireland Women's Under-17s
Cork/Waterford: Eabha O'Mahony, Rachel O'Regan, Aoife Slattery, Lauren Egbuloniu, Zara Foley
Dublin: Courtney Maguire, Rachael Kelly, Roisin McGovern, Doireann Fahey, Jessica Ziu, Taylor White, Emily Whelan, Louise Masterson, Shauna Carroll
Galway/Mayo: Andrea Trill
Midlands: Leah Brady