Steve Feeney mid-season Interview

Sligo Rovers Women’s Premier Division manager Steve Feeney assessed the impact of senior football in the League of Ireland 18 months after the historic first senior game for the club in an interview with Conall Collier for the Sligo Rovers v Cork City match programme.


All the focus next week will be on the opening game of the FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup with the Republic of Ireland set to tackle hosts Australia on Thursday, 20th July.

The fact that Ireland will be represented at the tournament for the first time reflects positively on the progress over the last few years at international level – following a well-publicised stand-off between the players and the FAI in 2017.

The development of what is now the Women’s Premier Division (WPD) has also gained momentum with the affiliation of Sligo Rovers last season taking the number of teams to 10 and another increase this season with the return of Shamrock Rovers.

That brought the number to 11 and also facilitated a two-round (one home and one away) series of games to determine the destination of the title.

An extra bonus this year, arising out of a planned World Cup mid-season break, was the introduction of the Avenir Sports All-Island Cup with five teams from Northern Ireland joining the 11 League of Ireland teams to play four qualifying groups over the last few weeks.

Two weeks ago, Sligo Rovers travelled to Belfast and earned a 1-1 draw against Cliftonville who this weekend will play Galway Utd in the decider.

Hopefully, the competition will continue again next season.

Former Bit O’Red player Steve Feeney was the man tasked with guiding the fledgling Sligo Rovers women on a journey into the unknown that began in March 2022 on a cold and wet afternoon in West Dublin against Peamount Utd.

Sligo Rovers lost (6-0) and after that game I spoke to Steve Feeney to get his reaction and also his views about what the future might hold for the newest Sligo Rovers team.

“It’s my first senior job as a manager so that alone is exciting, but the fact it is Sligo Rovers and the first senior women’s team, it was and is a privilege,” he commented in March 2022.

“I can’t speak highly enough about the players, the attitude is great, they have the desire to play for Rovers.

“Playing in the Women’s National League is the highest club standard they can achieve in this country and I have no doubt that they will make the grade,” he added.

Some 18 months later, Steve Feeney still has loads of enthusiasm for the role as manager and despite the results so far this season, he remains positive about the long-term objective of the club in providing a pathway to senior football for young players locally.

“We were under no illusions about the challenge we would face this season, we had a good campaign in 2022 and managed some notable victories,” he said.

“Obviously, our target was to get more points this season than last season, but it just hasn’t worked out for us up to now.

“There are a number of factors, the obvious one is that this year there are seven games less as the League is on a two-round basis whereas last year it was a three-round schedule.

“The more important point is that this season we have a younger team, a less experienced team and also, the overall standard has improved and continues to improve.

“That’s a positive development, improvement in standards, but it also makes it more difficult for the less experienced teams.

“Nevertheless, I can say that we have been competitive in most of our games so far and one difference is that last season we got the ‘bounce of the ball’ on a few occasions where we won games, but not so much this season.

“I’d highlight our opening game here at the Showgrounds against Shams where we certainly were competitive and worth a draw, but we conceded the winner in the 92nd minute.

“That was tough and if you just look at the way the season has gone since for each team, it shows the tight margins between winning and not winning

“We had Wexford and Peamount after that and it was difficult to try to build some momentum,” he added.

Sligo Rovers recruited a number of new faces for the 2023 season including sisters Jodie Loughrey and Keri Loughrey along with goalkeeper Bonnie McKiernan and Casey Howe, but the loss of players like Gemma McGuinness and Paula McCrory was a setback.

That had an impact on results and also meant that a period of adjustment was required to enable players to settle into the new season.

“The loss of Gemma (McGuinness) and Paula (McCrory) meant there was a lot of experience gone from the team,” remarked Steve.

“As a team, we are competitive in our games, we’re not playing badly, a lot of the goals we have conceded have been down to our own deficiencies as distinct from great play by the opposition.

“While that’s regrettable, to concede the goals, it is something that we can resolve and it’s something that will happen less frequently as the players gain more experience and composure.

“Putting it simply, if we can reduce the number of basic errors that we are making, then we will have a chance in every game for the remainder of the season.

“The girls are well aware of what we need to do and they are quite prepared to put in the effort that’s required, once you have that level of commitment, you can address the problems.

“There are lots of positives that we can take out of the first part of the season and we can now focus on those and hopefully push on when the action resumes in mid-August with a game against Athlone Town and then the FAI Cup the following weekend against Bonagee Utd.

“It’s not all that different this season to last season, the bottom three – ourselves, Cork and Treaty, then there is a mid-table group and a top four group. Our immediate target now has to be to finish above Cork and Treaty,” he suggested.

Fielding a senior team in the League of Ireland is a big commitment for the club and that’s something that Steve is well aware of.

“One of the main objectives of the club fielding a senior team is to have a pathway for the girls coming through from the 17s and 19s, that’s something that wasn’t there previously,” commented Steve.

“Over the past 18 months, last season and this season so far, we can certainly see that young players have got opportunities and that’s important for the overall development of the concept of a senior team, but it’s not going to be instantly successful.

“The u-19 players can see what is going on and there are girls who are just waiting for an opportunity to play for the senior team, we will try to facilitate as many as we can in the eight league games that are remaining.

“Playing against the top teams in our league, and even the Avenir Sports Cup games against Sion Swifts and Cliftonville, that’s going to improve our players regardless of the results.

“The players won’t learn much playing friendlies or against weaker opposition, but when they are playing quality teams each week, that has a knock-on long-term benefit that you won’t get no matter how many training sessions you do.

“The All-Island Cup competition was a great experience and it demonstrated that there isn’t a big gap in standards between our teams and the top five in Northern Ireland, but there is a similar divide in standards in each League.

“I suppose, ideally, it would be beneficial if the two Leagues could combine with a top tier and a second tier, that would benefit the stronger and the weaker teams, maybe it’s something that the legislators are looking at already?

“The bottom line is that there are no easy games, but I have great belief in what we are trying to do to develop local talent.

“Last year, we probably over-achieved a little, but to counter what might be described as poor results this year, we have seen a good number of young players stepping up to the mark and in the long-term that can only be good for everyone.

“There is also a women’s league starting locally in October and it’s likely to have 12 teams, that’s a very positive development.

“There will also be huge interest in the Irish women at the World Cup this month and that will get more girls interested in joining local clubs, that’s all very encouraging for women’s football at all levels.

“Sligo Rovers will continue to strengthen the foundations of the game locally and nationally and with many of our players recognised at under-age international level, we can see the success that has already been achieved, the results on the pitch will follow,” he concluded.