Minister for Sport Catherine Martin visits Showgrounds

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin has today visited The Showgrounds as Sligo Rovers work on plans to form a senior women’s team with a view to joining the SSE Airtricity Women’s National League from the 2022 season.

Minister Martin met with club officials – chairman Tommy Higgins, vice-chairman Andy Dodd and assistant secretary Mark Cummins.

Minister Martin was also briefed on the progress of academy football at Sligo Rovers by head of academy Conor O’Grady and on opportunities a senior women’s team could bring to women in the region.

Minister Martin spoke at length with Sligo Rovers head of academy Conor O’Grady on the progress of academy football in the League of Ireland and the landscape

A masterplan unveiled last year to show a proposed €17m redevelopment of the club’s facilities was presented on by chairman Higgins to the Minister as well as a walkthrough of the current facilities in Sligo.

As Sligo Rovers await news on their application to join the Women’s National League, IT Sligo have partnered with their local club to set up a scholarship team where female players who join Sligo will receive sponsored third-level education as a benefit of playing League of Ireland football.

Minister Martin said: “Today’s visit to The Showgrounds allowed me to see first hand the potential of League of Ireland clubs like Sligo Rovers and what they are delivering for sport overall in the country.

“I was particularly encouraged by the plans to join the Women’s National League. The FAI have shown they want to grow the women’s game on and off-the-pitch and there must be parity for men and women on the opportunities they receive in the game.

“Sligo have a huge catchment area with a large support base and I have no doubt they will be a huge asset to the ever-improving Women’s National League. Furthermore, tying in education with sport is a wonderful initiative and I must commend IT Sligo and Sligo Rovers for providing sportswomen with such a wonderful scheme.”

Minister Martin also spoke about the work done by League of Ireland clubs in developing future Irish internationals.

The Bit O’ Red had Irish underage internationals call-ups at men’s Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 level this month and over half of their senior men’s squad has graduated from the club’s academy.

Minister Martin met with Sligo Rovers academy players who could go on to play with the proposed senior team if the application is successful

The Irish Under-17 team which enjoyed great success in the last week in European Championship qualifiers was largely make up of Irish-based players as well as some in Europe.

Stephen Kenny’s exciting young Republic of Ireland team are filled with former LOI players and the victories over Azerbaijan and Qatar in the last week has brought a wave of optimism.

It is hoped Sligo Rovers are now coaching future stars – with links already to the current team.

She stated: “We’ve seen first hand that schoolboy and League of Ireland clubs are developing the future of the Irish national team.

“Chiedozie Ogbene, Gavin Bazunu and Jamie McGrath were three outstanding performers for Ireland last week – all of whom came through the underage systems in Ireland in recent years.

“The experienced players still in the squad such as James McClean and Seamus Coleman started their careers in the League of Ireland over a decade ago and how proud Derry City and of course Sligo Rovers must be.

“I am heartened to see the potential already being acted upon here and the volunteer coaches and staff are quite clearly working tirelessly to give young footballers every opportunity.

“It shows me that there is enormous potential for the League of Ireland and it must be supported in order for it to grow.”

Minister Frank Feighan TD of Fine Gael and Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council, Paul Taylor, Minister Catherine Martin TD, Green Party, and Martin Kenny TD of Sinn Fein in The Showgrounds today as cross-party support was shown to Rovers

The event was also attended by local representatives from Sligo-Leitrim, including Frank Feighan TD of Fine Gael, Martin Kenny TD of Sinn Fein, Marc MacSharry TD of Fianna Fail and Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council, Paul Taylor, as well as an endorsement from Marian Harkin TD.

Sligo Rovers wish to thank Minister Martin and all officials for visiting The Showgrounds today.