Shani Stallard

Julie Ann Russell of the  UCD Waves recently celebrated being named Republic of Ireland women’s player of the year at the 25th ‘Three’ FAI International Football Awards, and I managed to catch up with the winger to ask her a few short questions in a quiet ten minute break that she had, while she was in work in Microsoft over in Sandyford.

As all athletes will know, combining work or college with full time training can be very difficult. Julie Ann spoke about her hectic weekly routine which involves working all day from about 8:30 a.m. and then training four evenings a week, two gym sessions over in the High Performance Gym on campus and two soccer sessions on a Wednesday and Friday. These days are extremely busy and Julia Ann admitted that its not uncommon for her to leave the house at 8.00am and not return till 8.30 pm for the purposes of work and training , she said these are “long days going from work to training to home, and then getting ready again for the next day”. As well as training sessions during the week, she usually plays matches on a Sunday, so only gets two days off a week, Monday and Saturday.

We spoke about the team here in UCD, the UCD Waves, who have had great success since the team was put together last summer. Testament to the work of the Waves, two of the team’s stars Julie Ann and Aine O’Gorman received nominations for the women’s player of the year award, with Julia Ann winning outright . Although a relatively new bunch, Julie Ann said that it feels like the team has been playing together for years and that it “doesn’t feel like a brand new team, the girls have all gelled together and get on really well together”. This is certainly evident from their performances on the pitch, even after only a couple of months together the girls have performed very well. UCD Waves are now ranked second in the Continental Tyres Women’s League after they beat Raheny United last month and are now just eight points behind Wexford Youth Womens AFC, who they will play on the 19th of April. Julie Ann also mentioned the fantastic opportunities that the girls have here in UCD in terms of facilities and coaching, and that it is also brilliant to be able to train alongside some of the other high performance international athletes resident on the Belfield campus .

The conversation then drifted to the difference between media coverage in soccer between the two genders. Julia Ann agreed that the difference is phenomenal in terms of men and women. However, she did mention that as a whole, she doesn’t believe that soccer in this country gets enough coverage. For example the mens League of Ireland is Ireland’s highest level yet lacks the coverage which it deserves, and that if the country is trying to improve and to qualify for major international competitions such as the world cup, then development is needed. This development must happen in terrestrial leagues according to Julia Ann who sees a stronger domestic football scene as the route to building a more successful national side.

In terms of women’s football coverage, Julia Ann  agrees that it is very poor on both a national and international scale, and although it has progressed over the last couple of years, it is still nothing compared to the coverage and media attention which is granted to the mens game. More and more attention has been paid to the womens football scene is recent months of course, helped by the height of Stephanie Roche’s achievements in challenging James Rodriguez and Robin Van Persie for the Puskas Goal of the Year and beating the latter to second place. The Shankill native secured a move to Houston Dash in the midst of the flurry of media attention and looks to be raising the stock of the female game. We also spoke about this media gender gap in other sports in Ireland, such as the Six Nations which recently took place, where in certain newspapers the men were given a six page spread, while the women got half a page, and in some cases not even a picture.

I asked Julia Ann about her upcoming competitions and she told me that she is off to Spain on Sunday with the national team. Spain are currently ranked 14th in the world, and will play in the World Cup in the summer, and the Irish women will play a friendly against them on Wednesday. The Irish team will play a friendly against the US in May, and Julia Ann said that playing Spain next week would be good preparation, and a good opportunity “to get some game time together before that”.