The stands in Ferrycarrig Park were jam packed last week as the UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifying round officially kicked off.
The league got in full swing on Tuesday as Wexford Youths faced BIIK-Kazygurt from Kazakhstan, ending in a 3-1 loss to the home team. Later in the week, they faced Lithuanian team Gintra, with a final score of 2-1 to the opposing team. The final match for Wexford Youths ended with a 0-0 result when they played against Moldovan team ARF Criuleni.
Matches involving some of the visiting teams also took place in Waterford Regional Sports Centre.
It was a historic occasion for Wexford Youths who hosted the teams from Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Moldova during their stay in the Southeast. This marked the first time that the league has ever been hosted in Ireland, making it a big step forward for women’s football in Wexford and Ireland as a whole.
FAI Wexford Development Officer William Doyle said that the event attracted plenty of attention which he hopes will boost interest in women’s football.
‘The stand for the first match was nearly full for the first time this season and that includes the men’s football,’ he said.
‘There was a great buzz around the grounds. A lot of young girls were there to watch the games and many of them were saying that the players were role models of theirs.’
According to William, the standard of play was fantastic throughout, while the visiting teams also showed a great deal of professionalism.
‘Even though the time difference between us and them is only about five hours, the Kazakhstan team arrived six days earlier to make sure that they weren’t jetlagged. That just shows the level of professionalism that they have,’ he added. ‘Unfortunately, they beat Wexford Youths 3-1 but it was a very good game.’
During a Civic Reception in County Hall on Monday, the qualifying teams and coaches were officially welcomed to the county by Chairman of Wexford County Council Paddy Kavanagh and representatives from the FAI and Wexford Youths FC. President of the FAI Tony Fitzgerald and Director of National Competitions Fran Gavin were also there to honour the occasion.
Chairperson Cllr Paddy Kavanagh welcomed all of the teams in their respective languages at the opening ceremony.
‘It is a privilege for Wexford County Council to offer our support to Wexford Youths FC, your hosts for this competition, and I thank the Club sincerely for allowing us to be part of this wonderful occasion. Wexford is extremely proud of our long and illustrious sporting tradition, a tradition which is important both socially and economically,’ he added.
The recently opened Talbot Suites at Stonebridge and the Talbot Hotel served as the official accommodation partner for the visitors. Over 150 players, management and officials were put up in the hotel and suites during the course of their stay.
‘The players have has only positive things to say about the Talbot,’ said William, who said that the success of such a partnership might lead to other international sporting events being held in Wexford in future.
Later in the week, the teams and coaches also took advantage of excursions to Hook Head, Loftus Hall and various other tourist attractions.
The announcement earlier this year that Wexford was to host the UEFA qualifiers received huge support across the town, particularly after plans to host it last year fell through due to a lack of suitable accommodations. Speaking with this newspaper in July, William Doyle said that the visit would provide opportunities for local businesses and local people.
‘It’s a huge opportunity for people to see European football,’ he said. ‘There is often a negative stigma surrounding women’s football and people don’t give it a chance. When people do come out and watch the teams play, people soon see that they are very good at football. In fact, it can often be more exciting [than men’s football] with more goals and more chances created.’
(First published in the New Ross Standard newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/uefa-teams-attract-a-huge-crowd-to-ferrycarrig-park-for-qualifying-round-35023364.html)