Shelbourne’s Rachel Graham insists a professional league will stem WNL player outflow

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RACHEL GRAHAM believes the only way to stop the player drain in the Women’s National League is to go pro.

Graham and Shelbourne meet Athlone Town in Sunday’s FAI Women’s Cup final to win a historic double.

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Graham’s Shelbourne hoping for a League & Cup double.
Irish ace Chloe Mustaki was among the stars to leave Shels.

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Irish ace Chloe Mustaki was among the stars to leave Shels.

But her season has been anything but easy.

They had a ten-point lead in the WNL over the summer, but were caught again in September before a late surge retained the title.

Graham credits their rivals for catching them and making for a dramatic final which saw four teams – Shels, Athlone, Wexford Youths and Peamount – in the hunt with two games to go.

However, she also acknowledged that the upheaval of players at the club was another factor. Graham, 33, said: “We lost Jess Ziu, Saoirse Noonan and Chloe Mustaki who are three brilliant players for any team in the league.

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“See, in fairness, the players that have come in have performed brilliantly but they are a huge loss.

“The Champions League has probably taken a toll on the players. We came back from there with two injuries and then we have the other teams to thank for it.”

Ireland internationals Ziu, Noonan and Mustaki all traveled to England – to West Ham, Durham and Bristol City respectively – with no transfer fees or compensation to Shels.

The league is all amateur, so Shelbourne can also take players from WNL rivals – this was an issue that has prompted the FAI to consider transitioning to pro.

And Graham believes this is the next logical step and will create obstacles to British clubs’ no-risk approach to poaching players.

She added: “We used to have to pay to play in the league. We used to have to pay €300. Of course that’s gone for all clubs now and then we would also cover the costs.

“To be honest, we also do it for love. We love the club and we just want to play for the club and it’s a bonus that it’s not out of your pocket and you get your expenses on top of that.

“I don’t know how fast it will turn pro. That’s the next step, but I don’t know how close it is to be honest.

“It’s so easy to take our players with you. We lost Emily Whelan last year. On Wednesday she realized she was leaving, with Birmingham saying “we want you”.

“And then, on Saturday, she was gone. It was a matter of three or four days to replace that player.

“It’s probably just too easy to come in and pick our players. It’s not fair that the club invested so much and just come in and take whoever they want.

“Someone like Emily would come over and she wasn’t really playing much, so I just don’t think so. . . If there is a compensation fee there, they will only take the players they really want.

“While Emily sat on a bench for almost a year. She was in the international squad for the senior team, but she’s not really in it at the moment. I know she went to Glasgow, she will be brilliant there.

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“Right now it is too easy as there is no risk. I don’t know how easy it is to turn the league into a pro.

“But it’s obviously the next step that we want to look at.”

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