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By RUTH FAHY

While last weekend’s cancelled match was hugely disappointing, it was simply a time for adopting the approach that “if you can’t change it, change your attitude”.

After it was confirmed that our WNL match against Peamount United was a definite no-go, I decided to use the opportunity to spend some much needed down-time back home with my family in Galway.

There is no better down time than sitting in front of the fire watching football (yes, a subjective opinion!), and as my luck had it Sunday gifted me with the first opportunity I had all season to watch Leicester City in action against Arsenal in the English Premier League.

Given that my own team, Manchester United, aren’t going to win the Premier League this season (I try to be an optimist, but time to accept that Wayne Rooney ain’t going to be lifting any trophies in 2016), my preference would be for Leicester to go all the way. Although they lost against Arsenal in the last kick of the game, there is something a little special about them.

Leicester have heart, clearly, but beyond that their team is scattered with leaders; leaders whose names are slowly but surely gaining prestige within a league where money generally results in success and many feel that salaries influence player hunger.

Players like Jamie Vardy, N'Golo Kante, Robert Huth. All leaders in their own right. Whether it’s a striker who drives the whole team forward, a midfielder who covers each blade of grass in their effort to make every move effective, or a defender who will put their body on the line time and time again, each action combines to create a powerful engine that is very hard to stifle.

Leadership is a fascinating topic of contemplation. Leadership can mean different things to different people and can be depicted in numerous ways. There is one thing for sure though, and that is that leadership needs to be present in numbers in order for a squad to be successful.

One can see it in the WNL. Strong teams have strong leaders, and it is clear to see from teams at the top of the league that this is the case. Playing against the likes of UCD Waves and Shelbourne Ladies, one can sense leadership in numbers, and this is taken into account when completing opposition analysis and game preparation.

Certain factors combine to litter a squad with leaders. The age profile of a squad, the gelling of a squad (then making players comfortable and confident to lead), and, of course, mentorship and guidance.

What is a leader? Not necessarily someone that can talk and direct a team vocally. I remember reading that Eric Cantona as Manchester United captain barely spoke. The aura he exuded within the dressing room, his effortless ability to command respect, and his compassion as an individual were all factors cited as reasons for receiving the captain's armband.

Looking at any team captain can help describe the elements that make a leader. Our current captain, Kylie Murphy, is the perfect example. The right mix of banter and authority, inspiring commitment and drive both on the pitch and off it, and a passion for her team that is contagious. Given she is the leader of a female squad, the fact that she is approachable to age groups young and old is a unique quality that adds even more to her importance. Above all, she has the utmost respect of every single player. It helps that she is a seriously gifted midfielder on top of all that.

Leadership ability often correlates directly with experience. The older you get, the more assured you become in your own opinions and the less fearful you are to share them. This is often why squads with a good balance of youth and experience (always the gentler word for “old!”) seem to show stronger character. This just highlights how important is if for the WNL to try and keep players in the game as long as their careers allow.

I remember when I was first made captain of a team. It was with Salthill Devon and I was around 20-years-old. We had a great team, but the average age profile of the squad was around 17. We struggled a little in one or two big matches. Although honoured to be captain I wasn’t totally comfortable in the role, and didn’t even think I had the qualities capable to be a good leader. I look back now and wish I had been more of a leader in those early days. I grew into the role with time.

That’s not to say that age dictates ability. Some players are born with an ability to lead and they do so from day one. I look at players like Emma Hansberry, Rianna Jarrett and Claire O’Riordan; all 21 years old and who could wear the armband on any day (although Claire may want to work a little on her communication with officials first... Getting there Claire!).

That hammers home again the point of leadership in numbers. The updated WNL fixture list has been released, and midweek games in addition to weekend fixtures mean that a hectic schedule is on the horizon. Everybody is going to need to pull their weight, in every squad, to make it a season to remember. 

 

Here is a list of previous columns...

A brand new start
Timing makes all the difference
-
 Moving clubs and moving on
- Time to change perceptions
- Good coaching makes great players
- Why girls play football
- A level playing field
- It had everything...and more
- Stay fresh in body and mind
- Talent is nothing without motivation
- It's a different ball game