Steve Feeney reflects on first WNL Season

Manager Steve Feeney assesses the 2022 Women’s National League season for Sligo Rovers

Steve Feeney was handed the manager’s bib for the debut season of Sligo Rovers in the Women’s National League only a week before Christmas Day 2021.

The first manager of the Sligo Rovers Women’s team was tasked with assembling a panel some 80 days before the scheduled kick-off against high-flying Dublin club Peamount Utd in early March.

Some eight months and 27 games later (26 in the WNL and one FAI Cup), Feeney will send his players out for the final game of the season against DLR Waves on home turf at the Showgrounds this Saturday.

There were lots of highlights and lowlights in a campaign that brought the team to venues in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Athlone and Wexford as the WNL expanded to 10 teams with the inclusion, for the first time, of Sligo Rovers.

At all times, Feeney adopted a positive demeanour on the sideline and was always looking for areas where the team could improve.

“There were some heavy defeats, some games where we could have won and didn’t and some games that we were given no chance in and we won,” he commented.

“It’s easy to say that the wins at home against Shelbourne and Wexford were the highlights, and they were important.

“At the start of the season no one involved in the WNL would have given us any chance at all against either of those clubs and against most of the other clubs as well.

“However, the biggest highlight for me was the fact that towards the end of this season, this month, we were going to places like Shelbourne and Wexford with the expectation that we might get results.

“The girls have given a good account of themselves throughout the season and at this stage, the last game of 2022, everyone is now aware that they won’t get it easy against Sligo Rovers,” he added.

The commitment that was, and is, required from everyone involved, but especially the younger players, is not lost on the manager either.

“It was a huge commitment for the players, almost 30 competitive games, training started back in January and we are now at the end of October, realistically that’s 10 months of training and playing,” he pointed out.

“Obviously, for the players there is the two nights a week with us, but they also have to do their own training and recovery sessions, watching diet and all that sort of thing.

“That would have been new to a lot of the girls, they would have been in good condition anyway, but it’s a serious step up to play week-in, week-out in the WNL

“The players are a credit to themselves, they took on what was a big challenge, a big commitment, and you can see that they took it on as they showed gradual improvement throughout the season, that speaks volumes about them as individuals.

“It’s also great to see players like Emma Doherty, Kerri O’Hara and Alice Lillie getting recognised for international selection, that’s not just this season, but over the last few years, they’re three very good players.

“What stands out about that trio, and it’s also true across the squad, is the attitude and the willingness to keep going in a game, even when it’s not going your way,” he added.

Looking to the future, and more immediately to next season, Feeney is well aware that the task is not going to get any easier simply because the team has enjoyed a reasonable debut campaign in the WNL.

“Hopefully, we can push on and build for next season, but it doesn’t follow that we will automatically improve just because we have the first season behind us,” he stressed.

“We will have to work harder if we want to improve our position, finishing eighth this season, but it won’t be easy, that’s for certain.

“This year we were an unknown quantity, the new team in the WNL, next season we will be just one of the teams trying to improve our position, all the other teams will have the same goal.

“One positive will be the fact that we have a decent panel of players, we also have a good idea now of what to expect.

“We have the chance now to get organised in the off-season and get a proper pre-season into most of the players.

“This season, most of the girls only joined up a few weeks before kick-off and indeed some of them signed a week before the start, that wasn’t ideal.

“A better preparation will help us, but that’s all, it will help us, but it doesn’t mean we will improve on that aspect alone, we will have to find improvement in all sectors.

“We probably lacked a bit of conditioning early in the season, we won’t have that issue for 2023.

“For this season, I’m grateful to everyone who was involved and the commitment and effort that everyone made, it would be nice to get a big crowd for this last game of the season and to get a result as well,” he concluded.