Darcy Henry jogs to the sidelines.
She just likes getting the ball and having the ball, she says, hopping as she catches her breath. “Cus then I’ll be able to score a goal. It’s great.”
Over her shoulder on the pitch, her teammates sprint and shout. Coach Wayne Byrne calls out encouragement.
“Steady on, Sophie,” he yells, as a tall girl lands heavily next to the ball.
The number of girls on this football team at St John Vianney Football Club in Artane has shot up from six to 26 in the last 18 months.
Locally, the team is known as Vianney Boys, says its website.
But “at the moment, we’re having more girls than boys coming into the academy, which has never happened in twenty years”, says John Armstrong, treasurer of the club.
It means that coaches and committee members are starting to see the club and its facilities through new, gendered eyes and are noticing, for one, that their pitch has no toilets.
Three weeks earlier, two girls had to leave training because they needed the toilet, says Armstrong. “We’re just worried that we’re gonna start losing girls because we’ve no facilities for them.”
Other soccer and Gaelic football clubs across Dublin are questioning why public pitches do not have adequate toilet facilities, and raising it with Dublin City Council.
Finding a Spot
Sophie Judge jogs lightly off the pitch towards the team’s coach, Wayne Byrne, who is quietly watching from the sides.
Sometimes you just really need to go to the toilet, she says, standing back from the team racing behind her. “And you can’t really, like, drive off.”
That happens, says Byrne. Parents just ferry kids home “and that’ll be the end of that girl’s training session”.
There’s a reason there were no toilets built for the boys, he says.
“They can just go over to the bush,” says Sophie, looking bashful, her eyes widening – but she won’t. “They’ll all see,” she says, with a giggle.
Darcy says she never needs to go to the toilet during training or matches but if she had to, she wouldn’t go behind the bushes. “It’s a bit weird.”
Grey shipping containers line the back wall of the pitch and act as changing rooms.
Toilets could be added there, says Byrne. “You can run a mains pipe along the wall, there’s no issue.”
Dublin City Council told Vianney FC on 21 June that they would look into getting toilets, but that it would be expensive, says Armstrong, the club treasurer.
“We’ve come up with a few solutions,” he said. For example, “we could move our changing rooms closer to the sewage pipe”.
They’re hoping to get a grant from Dublin City Council, but they haven’t heard back, says Armstrong.
Dublin City Council hasn’t responded to queries about whether there is a plan to install toilets in Vianney FC.
A Growing Interest
Ranelagh Gaels, a GAA club that plays in various pitches around Dublin 6, has also had more girls joining.
“We do want to make sure that the club is facilitating everything as much as we can to try and ensure that girls continue playing,” says Cliona O’Leary, vice chairperson of Ranelagh Gaels.
Not having a home ground means the club is very aware of what facilities it can’t provide, says O’Leary.
“When you have your period, it’s really important that there are toilet facilities there,” she says. “I don’t think anybody should be playing without there being some.”
O’Leary says the club found it challenging to work with Dublin City Council to get access to toilets in Dartry Park.
The club has been saving funds to install toilets at the pitch in Cathal Brugha Barracks, she says, and the Minister for Defence has approved of the plans.
A kilometre down Malahide Road from Vianney FC’s pitch in Artane, Killester Donnycarney Football Club has doubled the number of girls playing since it reopened after lockdown, says Thomas Heary, the girls’ team coach.
From under-8s to under-14s, they have 96 girls, he says, with word of mouth playing a big part in the increase.
The juniors play three games in a weekend. They make sure everybody gets on the pitch, he says. “Every single girl plays. That’s important, that’s how you get girls playing.”
The club also has toilet facilities, he says.
In Drimnagh, Good Counsel GAA Club has started a girls Gaelic football team to meet demand from new recruits, says Liz Baker, who coaches camogie for the club.
Around 200 girls are registered to play camogie and football, she says, up 60 percent since 2019. “There is a great interest in it, there’s no doubt.”
With the pandemic, parents are realising the benefits of kids running around outside, she says. “And you know, fresh air and keeping fit.”
Byrne, the Vianney FC coach, thinks soccer growth is down to the success of the national girls team. Screening more women’s sports on television helps too, he says.
“It gets them thinking, they can do it, so we can do it when we’re older,” he says.
Heary, the Killester Donnycarney coach, says they took kids to see an Ireland match and knew some were looking at the players hoping to be them someday. “We all hope, don’t we?”
It’s fun, says Halle Byrne, a player for Vianney FC under-11s. “Sometimes if you’re sad, you can get some stuff off your mind.”
Her pet died last year, she says. “I was really sad about that, but when I play some football, I got a bit happier.”
Room to Grow
A ball flies across the Killester Donnycarney pitch and whacks Clare Green on the back. She glances over her shoulder, pauses, then gets back to telling her story.
When she was seven, and had outgrown kicking the ball around with her friends, she was allowed to join the boys’ football team in Ballymun.
Other girls might have been reluctant, says Green, maybe thinking they weren’t good enough. “That never bothered me at all. I was treated the same as them.”
When they turned 11, girls weren’t allowed on the boys’ team. “I was very sad then when I came to that age. Heartbroken,” she says.
There was no girls’ team in Ballymun. Green tried out six or seven teams in north Dublin.
Coaches didn’t seem into it though, she says. “They didn’t care about matches, or who came, or what we were doing.”
Killester Donnycarney FC, where she plays on the ladies team – which made it to Premiere 1 of the Eastern Women’s Football League last year – is different, she says.
“The best of the best,” says Green proudly – and the coach cares. “We all know our rules with this team. We’ve gotten so far just because of him putting us in our place.”
Darcy, a player on the Vianney FC under-11s, bigs up her coach too.
She played GAA but the managers were mean, she says. “They were shouting too loud, but Wayne doesn’t,” she says. “He’s nice. He’s a good footballer.”
“I looove football!!” she shouts, running back towards the pitch to pick up a ball.
Chloe Clark said her mother – who is also a footballer – started a girls’ football team for Clark and her friends.
“It was literally about 10 of us. There weren’t as many as there is now. It was hard,” says Clark, who now plays for Killester Donnycarney ladies along with her mother.
Green says the number of teams in the city still isn’t enough: “There’s so many girls out there that want to play, there’s just nowhere for them to go.”