Anticipation is high across the Irish Sea ahead of the start of the League of Ireland’s Women’s Premier Division on Saturday. Increased professionalisation, coverage and excitement in the build up to the 2023 World Cup has made this season one not to be missed.
All the action will be available to view on LOITV while TG4 have committed to broadcasting more games this campaign.
Athlone Town were the talk of Ireland last campaign as they disrupted the status quo, breaking up the trio of Shelbourne, Wexford and Peamount to finish runners-up in only their second year in the division.
Under the guidance of Tommy Hewitt, they earned victories against every one of the traditional top three while also finishing second to Shelbourne in the Evoke.ie FAI Women’s Cup.
Athlone unfortunately lost their top goalscorer, Emily Corbet, to Wexford in the off-season but have brought in some exciting new faces. Arrivals have come in the form of midfielder Chloe Singleton and defender Shauna Brennan, both from Galway. Eve Conheady also made the move, joining from Peamount at the end of the 2022 season. Meanwhile, they have hung onto talented youngster Muireann Devaney who made a bug impression last time out.
Silverware has already found its way to Athlone this season with them lifting the inaugural President’s Cup last weekend on home turf. In front of almost 1,500 at the Athlone Town Stadium, they beat champions Shelboune on penalties to set up their stall for the coming campaign.
Bohs progression has been clear since entering the league as an expansion team in 2020. After finishing bottom in their first season, they ended last campaign at a respectable seventh.
Sharing Dalymount Park with their men’s side in Dublin’s Phibsborough, they will be looking to continue their development in Ireland’s top division.
Their talented forward Erica Burke will lead the team and the line this season, having been made captain. The former Gaelic footballer will be joined this season by a triple-code sports star. Sarah Rowe signed for the club at the start of the year, returning home from Australia where she spent time with Melbourne Victory and playing Aussie rules. Rowe also represented Mayo in GAA up until 2018. She is capped at senior level in soccer for Ireland, making her only appearance in 2015. Fiona Donnelly and Mia Dodd have also joined over the winter.
The 2022 campaign was a struggle for Cork as they finished second from bottom and changed managers half-way through the season.
However, since the arrival of Danny Murphy in May, there has been more positivity around the club. With the chance to bed in the changes he wanted and a long pre-season under their belt, they will kick off against champions Shelbourne with aims of finishing in the top five.
The off-season has been busy for Murphy, retaining his key players while bolstering a squad that has a strong mixture of experience and young talent. Midfielder Jesse Mendez arrived from Treaty United while Erika Manfre and Anna Costello also came from the USA. Aliz Mendez and Faye Ahern have made the shift to Cork over the winter.
DLR Waves are perhaps a little bit of an unknown outfit coming into the 2023 campaign. A long-term participant in the Irish top flight, the Dublin-based side finish fifth last time out but have seen much change over the winter.
Graeme Kelly has lost plenty of experience from his squad, with the likes of Kate Mooney and her goals heading away from the club. However, players have come in bringing excitement and talent with them. The versatile Bronagh Kane has arrived from Bohs while Rebecca McMahon and Michelle Doonan signed from Peamount. Waves have also managed to hold onto the experienced goalkeeper Eve Badana and their stalwart, Catherine Cronin, who enters her fifth season with the club.
There has been a hive of activity over the last six months on the west coast of Ireland with disruption and new beginnings aplenty. In September, Galway WFC announced that they would not apply for inclusion in the 2023 season. Thankfully, in stepped Galway United to form a new team and ensure that top tier women’s football continued in the county.
As a result, there has understandably been much change. Phil Trill has taken up the management reins after coaching at Galway WFC while many former players have signed up, retaining some element of consistency. Alongside the likes of Jenna Slattery and Aoife Thompson, Lynsey McKey has made the move across and will captain the side this season.
There have additionally been some astute signings into Eamonn Deacy Park. Northern Ireland’s Gemma McGuinness has joined from Sligo bringing an impressive scoring haul with her, while Isabella Beletic has joined from Racing Louisville and Amy Madden from Treaty.
There will be keen eyes on Peamount this season to see where they are at. With the increased professionalistion of the league and the introduction of Shamrock Rovers over the break, James O’Callaghan’s side are one of the clubs left independent of a men’s team.
The Dublin side have challenged consistently at the top and finished third last campaign, four points behind Shelbourne. Their outgoing cohort has been significant, particularly losing the experience and goals of Aine O’Gorman and Stephanie Zambra (previously Roche) to their new city rivals.
There is excitement still within the squad. 22-year-old Sadhbh Doyle brought in ten goals in the league last season while DLR Waves’ top scorer Kate Mooney has made the move across the city. Avril Brierly has also joined their ranks while there is a group of exciting youngsters coming through.
The return of Shamrock Rovers to the top flight after a nine-year absence has turned a few heads as they re-establish their place in the WNL. Collie O’Neill’s team become the fifth Dublin-based side in the division.
Shamrock have spent the past few months building up a squad of some to the most notable names in the league. Twelve players have made the move across the city – six each from both Shelbourne and Peamount.
Goals and experience have arrived in the form of Aine O’Gorman and Stephanie Zambra (formerly Roche). The former has been named captain and has been the WNL’s top scorer for the last three seasons. Amanada Budden has been vital in goal for Shelbourne recently while the likes of Abbie Larkin provide some exciting youngsters.
How quickly O’Neill can bring his new squad together is the biggest question. Will they need time to settle or will they hit the ground all guns blazing?
Shelbourne start the 2023 campaign with eyes firmly set on lifting a third successive title but knowing that they’ll have their work cut out for them once more.
As with their fellow Dublin clubs, they have had to adapt to departures to Shamrock Rovers, including Shauna Fox and the young Abbie Larkin. However, they have brought in new (and returning) blood. A signing of note is the return of Siobhan Killeen who made the switch to Gaelic football in 2018, winning three All-Irelands. Noel King has looked beyond Ireland for his recruits with Christie Gray coming in from Rävåsens IK in Sweden, Ruvimbo Mucherera from UNC and Kayla Hamric from Houston Dash.
The pressure will be on at Tolka Park this season. Youngster Jessie Stapleton will be one to watch. The 18-year-old has caught the eye of clubs in England and beyond and will be looking to push her way into contention for a spot on the plane to the World Cup this summer.
Sligo Rovers enter their second season in the WNL looking to improve on their eighth position in 2022.
Steve Feeney has maintained a pretty stable squad over the off-season. Emma Doherty, Sligo’s top scorer last year, remains and will be looking to add to her 11-goal haul.
There has been a notable signing in the form of Casey Howe. The 20-year-old Northern Ireland striker arrives from Glentoran after thriving in the Danske UK Premiership and will surely add goals. Jodie and Keri Loughrey have also come in as has 19-year-old Seren Ward after impressing at ATU Sligo.
Treaty United will be looking to put the ghost of last season behind them as they get up and running at Markets Field. It was certainly a year to forget for the Limerick side, finishing bottom and conceding 110 goals.
A new manager arrived in December in the form of Alban Hysa and he has had to deal with a lot of change. There isn’t that much experience amongst the new recruits bar the addition of 43-year-old Ciara McCormack who has come out of retirement. Three have arrived also from Canada – Hailey Walsh, Cooper Lee-Lane and Kiara Kilbey.
Of those who have stayed, Alannah Mitchell is consistent in defence, while Katie Lawlee is an example of some promising emerging local talent.
Ever-present Wexford Youths have spent the off-season building in the hope of challenging for the title once more. The four-time winners of the league will be looking to end their barren run, after last lifting the trophy in 2018. Stephen Quinn’s side finished fourth last time out and reached the semi-finals of the Evoke.ie FAI Cup.
There have been some shrewd signings over the winter. High-scoring Emily Corbet has arrived from Athlone Town with her 23 goals last campaign while Abbie Brophy has signed from Bohemian. Rianna Jarrett makes an exciting return to the club after leaving London City Lionesses. The forward is making her comeback from long-term injury and has moved back to Ireland to try and get more minutes in a push for a World Cup spot.