O'Neill: Tractor Girls' Success Just the Start
Thursday, 6th Feb 2020 18:16
General manager of football operations Lee O’Neill says ITFC Women’s success in both cup and league this season is the result of more than two years’ work but with the club’s ultimate aspirations nowhere near to being fulfilled.
The Tractor Girls are top of the FAWNL Division One South East - the fourth tier - and face their first ever fifth round FA Cup tie away against holders and current Women’s Super League leaders Manchester City a week on Sunday.
O’Neill says if that tie might well have been played at Portman Road had the Blues been drawn at home rather than away.
“I think it was definitely a conversation we would have had,” he said. “We would have worked with [groundsman] Ben [Connell] and the groundstaff and looked at the timeframe of games because the games are played on Sundays and if we were to play Saturday-Tuesday that would be quite difficult.
“But I’m really proud of the whole programme, of [manager] Joe [Sheehan] and [assistant] Paige [Shorten] and all the girls, they’re doing a really good job.
“And not just this cup campaign, if you look back it’s been two years in the making really, of putting it in place and again giving it time to develop and nurture and it’s great for them to go and have an experience playing against Manchester City at their training facility, challenging themselves against the best players in the Women’s Super League.
“It’s great for them and it’s great for the club to have a team that is aspiring to get to that level.”
He says the club has ambitions to compete at a much higher level: “Something we spoke about with [owner] Marcus [Evans] two and a half years ago when we set it up with the academy was to look at how we would bring the senior team under the umbrella of the club and develop the two pathways so that young players [can develop into the senior side].
“Again, it fits the same model we had with the male side of the club, young players getting an opportunity play in the senior game and developing the senior side of things.
“The senior ladies have to get promoted out of the next league for us to be in a situation where we could put in an application for the WSL [FA Women’s Super League], which is something we will look at if we manage to achieve it.
“But there are definite aspirations there, and not just that but also for a dual career for the senior women, to play football at a professional level but also have a supporting element of a job at the same time.
“It’s not enough to live solely off [football] but they’ll be earning money out of the game but supporting, if they have to, mortgages, families and things like that.
“It’s a different criteria. They need to have some kind of dual career to have long-term sustainability and that’s a whole part of the academy programme, understanding what their education pathway looks like, the link we have with St Joseph’s College, what apprenticeships and what jobs are out there and which companies we can work with that allow certain training programmes to be put in place. All of those things are happening now and Joe’s a big part of that.
“There are lots of really positive things for the female game in both Ipswich and Suffolk going forward.”
O’Neill says the women’s side of the club is also an important aspect of Town’s community aims.
“It’s the fastest-growing participation sport in the country so for us to be at the forefront of trying to deliver something on what the professional game looks like for young girls and women in the area is important,” he added.
“It was something we identified two and a half years ago. It’s nowhere near where we would like it to be, it’s work in progress, again probably judging that programme in three years’ time, where it could be would be the best time, but it’s definitely going in the right direction.”
Photo: Ross Halls
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