There have been winners and losers in Irish sport these past few weeks. And for those who view their achievements through the prism of female sport, the same theme applied.
rom the Irish relay team and diver Tanya Watson’s historic Olympic qualification, through to Katie Taylor’s latest assertion of global dominance and Rachael Blackmore’s guidance of the indomitable Honeysuckle, there has been much to cheer.
It has not all been good news however. The amateur international rugby side continues to be dogged by conflicting messages off the field, with the coach at one stage not seeming to know who was in charge of the game in this country.
And the Camogie Association’s cack-handed attempts to organise their games, in a week when female footballers highlighted the inequalities in their sport, reflected the GAA community’s ongoing struggles to co-exist with the ambitions of their female members.
Then, the senior international women’s soccer manager, Vera Pauw, expanded on the ongoing absence of 19-year-old Donegal player Tyler Toland from her recent squad selections.
During the course of her address, she made a series of claims concerning Toland’s father, Maurice, which were serious enough to prompt him to respond through the media.
It would appear that the details emanating from both sides can’t simply be marked down as a difference of opinions. There are more serious issues at stake here — principally, that the mental and physical welfare of a teenage woman are being publicly debated with little discretion.
Surely it is time for a neutral voice to intervene, one that is not charged with the obvious discrimination of a coach who feels she is in the right as opposed to a parent who thinks she is not? Or does the Irish soccer community find satisfaction that the issue should remain beyond such resolution?
The parent has asked for an intervention to get to the bottom of the controversy. The FAI appear unwilling to engage in such a process.
“We are aware of the discussion around Tyler Toland and her position with the Republic of Ireland senior women’s team,” said a spokesperson for the FAI last week. “This remains an issue between Tyler and our senior manager Vera Pauw and Vera has our absolute confidence and support in dealing with this in an appropriate and measured manner but this will rightly remain a process that will not be in the public domain.”
But it was Pauw who initially brought some of these issues into the public domain. When pressed as to whether they might be willing to proffer the prospect of a mediation process or an investigation, the FAI responded that “this is the only statement being made on the topic.”
Although many Irish men have been excluded from squads for differing reasons, few have prompted the intervention of a parental figure.
However, given that it is only a few months since the FAI inquiry into Stephen Kenny’s decision to show a motivational video to his team, it is surely not beyond the realm for the Association to investigate such damaging claims.
Given this is a situation that has dragged on for so many months in the public domain, even before the most recent explosive utterances from both sides, one would suggest the time is now to get to the bottom of it. Some of the issues involved would seem to broach areas far beyond mere selection or tactical considerations.
However, the prevailing silence from the Irish football community, indeed the wider sporting community, suggests a sense of indifference.
Toland, capped 13 times at senior level, has not been selected since she was an unused substitute for a game against Greece in November 2019. She made an instant international impression when chosen for Pauw’s predecessor, Colin Bell, for a Euro qualifier against Montenegro.
Toland made her Irish debut in 2017, becoming the country’s youngest senior player in history. The midfielder had just signed for Manchester City before scoring in a player of the match display against Montenegro and, although she is now on loan at semi-professional Glasgow City, she remains highly thought of at her WSL parent club.
This may simply be a case of a player not fitting into a coach’s plans, but given the extraordinary details which have surfaced, a more comprehensive explanation is required by the manager and her employers.
The reputational damage to both player, manager and Association belies the FAI’s stance that this “rightly remain a process that will not be in the public domain” as it has already become so. Maybe it will take guts, to use Pauw’s own words, to achieve some necessary closure, because otherwise this will rumble on.
The FAI has not been shy of investigating itself in the past and should do so now. An independent voice with gravitas would seem appropriate to achieve a satisfactory process. Decisive leadership is required to end a sorry saga which reflects poorly on women’s sport in this country.