Hot on the heels of a sensational performance in the qualification stages of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and the club clinching the League and Cup double, Ben Gilby spoke to Elaine Harrington, secretary of Republic of Ireland’s top side Peamount United.
Elaine began our conversation by explaining the history of the club: “We were founded in 1983. The club itself is mostly known for its success with our women’s Teams which was established in 1988. Year on year we have strengthened the girls/women’s section and now attract some of the best players to our club. We won the first-ever Women’s National League in Ireland, and subsequently became the first-ever Irish team, male or female to qualify for the final stages of the UEFA Champions League in the process.”
It is to Peamount United’s Champions League history that we then turned to. “Previously when we played in the Champions League we got through the qualification group finishing as the best runner up. We then took on Paris St. Germain. Sometimes the fact we are an amateur club can have a strain on our players as they are all either in college or work and find it hard to get time off. This season we had a qualification game against Glasgow City. It was a surprise to us how well we did, we worked hard to prepare but the fact the girls all have to return to college/work can put a little strain on them.”
Peamount United’s return to Champions League football a couple of months back came after they won the Women’s National League for the first time in seven years. “For the previous three years we had finished as runners-up so we were getting stronger, but just couldn’t get it over the finish line. Wexford were the champions and we beat them twice. We actually only lost one game all season but Shelbourne pushed us all the way finishing one point behind us in 2019”
That championship win put Peamount United into a UEFA Women’s Champions League 1st Qualifying Round tie, in which they were handed possibly the toughest possible draw – away to last season’s Quarter-Finalists, Glasgow City. Peamount took City to extra-time and then a sudden death penalty shoot-out: “Honest opinion: We were outstanding!” said Elaine.
“I think we were not expecting the result. We never even considered penalties! I think going into a game as the underdogs is a help as you feel you have nothing to lose, we had been playing really well in the previous games and had no injuries so we were hopeful. We were absolutely delighted with the performance of the team, however we were a little disappointed thinking how close we got. We dusted ourselves off as we had a semi-final game against Wexford on the following Sunday, which we won thank God!”
Those Champions League appearances have had long lasting benefits for the Irish side as Elaine explained: “When you have a success like that it can then give you that final push to try and win the league again to get back to Champions League again. It also gives you the opportunity to attract new players in.”
I then asked Elaine to give us the lowdown on the top flight of women’s football in the Republic of Ireland: “The Women’s National League (WNL) was founded in 2011, previously we competed in the DWSL (Dublin Women’s Soccer League). The WNL was set up by the FAI to try run things more professionally. This year there are nine teams in it. There is a gap between top and bottom, however the gap is closing as more girls are playing soccer at the moment. It is well supported by UEFA and FAI, but as long as it remains amateur it is hard to grow it. It costs about 50,000 Euros per annum to run a team, and we are always relying on sponsors and asking our players to get a sponsor for themselves. But hopefully it will change in the future. The 2020 campaign has been a big help to girls’ sports.”
The year 2020 has not just been about an incredible UEFA Women’s Champions League performance – they also secured their return to the competition next season by not just winning the WNL but claiming the FAI Women’s Cup in fine style.
The Women’s National League of Ireland was won by five points from runners-up Shelbourne. Peamount United won eleven of their twelve matches, with just one defeat – 3-0 to Wexford Youths in August. The FAI Cup was won in true style as the club beat Cork City 6-0 at Tallaght Stadium. Stephanie Roche scored two with Aine Marie O’Gorman, Karen Duggan, Rebecca Watkins and Teigan Ruddy on the mark.
All of Peamount United’s fantastic achievements in 2020 have of course come against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. Harrington identified the areas that it had impacted on the club: “The biggest impact is not having spectators at our games. Financially we are better off as we have received COVID payments to the club from our Government to help us out. Apart from that the other major challenge that we have is the fact that the girls have to work or study and still play. The amateur status is the thing we would most like to change, if we could even go semi-professional it would be a big help.”
The club have a fantastic pathway for female football too, which Elaine outlined to me: “We currently have a top girls team at every level from U12. The FAI have brought in an U17 WNL team two years ago, and hopefully next season we will have an U19 WNL team. Our aim is to try and keep them at the club for as long as possible.”
As a totally amateur club, Peamount United rely on a small band of volunteers to keep them up and running. One of the most prominent of this band is Denis Commins who Harrington identifies as being “one of the founder members of the club. He has always ensured that everything is run to benefit the girls in every way possible, he is always going out and looking for sponsorship for girls, along with looking after our facilities, which are top class.”
Elaine Harrington ended by stating what she feels is her strongest wish for the club over the next five years: “I hope to see us go semi-professional. I’m sure if the same people that are involved with it today are still around we will be as good if not better than we are today.”