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The women’s supervisory brigade is in stark contrast to the IRFU’s policy of men’s line-up

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On paper, the flight of Ireland’s players to England is reminiscent of men’s football in the late 1990s, when the best players traded the AIL for the Premiership and the IRFU faced a dilemma.

Back then English clubs were offering good money or talented players and the clubs couldn’t compete.

However, the equation is very different for the five members of the Ireland women’s team currently playing in England and France.

Moving abroad is all about the opportunity to compete against a higher level of players on a weekly basis.

It’s not financially worth it, but with the AIL currently top-heavy and in need of real attention from the IRFU, they see it as a worthwhile sacrifice as they try to make the most of their short career.

Five members of the starter pack play outside of Ireland.

Sam Monaghan and Edel McMahon play for Wasps, Neve Jones plays for Gloucester-Hartpury and captain Nichola Fryday plays for the Exeter Chiefs.

Last year the IRFU broke new ground when they negotiated a deal for Linda Djougang to join the ASM Romagnat, yet the same organization refuses to select foreign-based players for their men’s team.

“Women’s football stands on its own in a way, it’s very different from men’s football,” said Ireland coach Greg McWilliams.

“We have to realize what we’re trying to do is create a powerful environment. Things are different. We use sevens players, we have girls playing abroad. The men’s games are different.

“It’s the ability for us to come together and put the best players on the field who will represent Ireland to the best of their ability.

“The AIL is improving, we know that. Would I love it long term if they all return to Ireland? Naturally. But I was a coach who went abroad to try and improve and these players are doing the same.

“They try to play at a really high level, to test themselves and to get to know another country. It’s not just about rugby, they grow up as people. You have to encourage that.

“We just have to be clear that there are so many aspects to women’s football that we feed a lot of champions. As long as we agree with the British coaches, the AIL coaches, we’re good to go.”

While the IRFU ultimately opted to bring the men home and strengthen the provinces in the early 2000s, in women’s football the solution will likely come from the clubs – and a small core pushing the standards in hopes of building one sustainable, competitive league capable of supplying players for the international team.

The recent final between Railway Union and Blackrock was a great spectacle but the overall competition lacks depth and the gap between the top four teams and the rest is huge.

Along with the five overseas-based players, six of the XV starters are part of the Sevens line-up, meaning only three are AIL players through and through.

Even the small steps to progress are a struggle. Tonight the general meeting of the Munster branch will meet to consider whether to grant senior status to clubs whose first team plays in the women’s AIL, but there are indications it will be a close vote and due to reluctance existing seniors clubs may not be accepted.

Ballincollig RFC is currently the only one of 60 AIL clubs not to have senior status, but for a battle to be fought shows that a cultural shift is needed along the way.

The whole thing will be the subject of a wide-ranging review of women’s football structures, but some want to strengthen the provinces while those on the ground insist an elite league can deliver what Ireland needs.

Meanwhile, a contingent of players not in line for Sevens deals will be aware of their short careers – and vote with their feet.

“Certainly not,” Edel McMahon said of the idea that she’s a full-time pro. “I’m still working, Sam Monaghan, my Wasp mate, she’s also working full time.

“At Wasps, I think we only have two players – Abby Dow and (Claudia) MacDonald – who are full-time professionals. Everyone else at the club works part-time or full-time and trains full-time. It’s just a balance.

“The biggest help with playing in the Premiership is that you’re up against Welsh, Scottish and English players, that familiarity makes it easier. They know how they play, that factor of unknown is less. You will not be intimidated.”

Two decades ago, the IRFU found a way to bring home their best male players.

The hope is that the next review will recommend funding and supporting a sustainable league so players who want to stay can achieve their goals without paying out of pocket.

https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/six-nations/womens-oversees-brigade-is-in-stark-contrast-to-irfu-policy-with-mens-set-up-41505510.html The women’s supervisory brigade is in stark contrast to the IRFU’s policy of men’s line-up

Fry Electronics Team

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