When Sky Ireland announced that it would not only be the primary partner of the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team but also set up a fund to help female football players, Saoirse Noonan was in disbelief.
However, she could never have expected that she would have been one of five players to receive the inaugural Sky WNT Fund to help support her fund her own clothing brand, Freedom.
VIP Magazine sat down with Saoirse to learn more about the changing face of Irish women’s sports. The 23-year-old soccer star has been making headlines since she was a teenager for her prowess on the field.
We chatted about women in sports, what the fund means to her and her future, as well as what it means to her to represent her country out on the pitch.
Congratulations on receiving the Sky WNT Fund. What does it mean for you?
All five of us are over the moon, it’s been invaluable, and it’s something that none of us have come across before. We’re really privileged and grateful for getting it. We’re all going to use it to the best of our ability. It’s going to be really beneficial for us going forward.
There has been a lot of talk about how young girls are not getting involved in sports. Do you think funds like this will increase participation amongst women and girls?
I suppose it shows that women’s sport is going in the right direction. It’s showing that Sky really values us as humans and as players. As well as the commitment that we have given to our sports. If you look at men and women, I’d like to say we all give the same commitment to our sport. And yet men’s pay cheques may be a lot different to ours. Sky identified this and they’ve reacted. They’re not just doing it this year, they’re also going to do it next year. And for anyone going forward, it’s invaluable. If anyone is doubting themselves or thinks they shouldn’t start something because they’re afraid they’re going to lose money, Sky could possibly be there to help them. It’s amazing. I think any girl’s dream is to play football as a job and I’m lucky enough I’m doing that. I think that for the younger girls, looking at this, it shows that you don’t have to be the best of the best of the best. Just work hard and your chance will come. I’m only here a short time so far and I can’t wait to get going and for the season to start. I have my business on the side but my main thing is football.
So you’ll be using the fund to help with your new clothing brand, Freedom. Tell us a bit about that!
During COVID, I realised that soccer isn’t going to be there. I relied on it. It was all I knew, I would go to school, come home and train. I worked a few jobs here and there part-time but it was always so difficult for me because I’m training so much. Soccer was my commitment. When COVID came I realised what would happen if I got injured or what would happen if my career ends when I’m 30. What do I do? I’m always going to be known as the girl who used to kick the ball for Ireland or for Cork or whatever it may be. Can I be known for something else? That’s when I started to create my own brand. I put a lot of heart and hard work in. I’m so grateful that this is coming back and it’s going to benefit it even further. My baseline is to be a professional soccer player in England, yeah, we get a wage but it’s not going to allow me to live for the rest of my life. Hopefully, I can keep going with Freedom on the back end and fall back into that when my football career finishes.
That’s not the only good news you have! You’ve just been signed to Durham Women FC in the UK, how has that been?
It’s amazing! We’re training every morning and then I come home to do my work on my laptop. It’s amazing that I can still do that. I have been focusing on the marketing side of my business and my sister is at home doing the hands-on side of things. Even the bursary has allowed me to do that and allowed me to have some help me. It’s not just a favour, it’s a job for her too.
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How have you been finding balancing your sports career with your clothing business?
My chill time would be on the laptop working. When I go to training and then come home to work, I don’t really find either of them jobs. I love both of them. I love being busy. I love having something to work towards. I’ve always been like that. Some people ask me how I’m going to train again but I just love it. I just want to do it. My mam used to always say to me that you should always enjoy your work. And I think that’s why I want to make this work and I want to make it successful. Seeing my sister work for me a bit, I want it to go bigger so I can have her working full time. I just enjoy every bit of it. That’s what makes me grow with it and make it successful. I think my screen time is insane because I’ll sit down to watch a movie but I’ll have the laptop out. I hate when my screen time is high because I don’t want to be on my phone. But I realised it’s not just scrolling through Instagram, it’s work, work, work. I’m looking at different things and learning from different people. I love pushing myself to the next level and seeing what I can achieve.
Obviously, the Irish Women’s Soccer Team is incredible this year. What has that been like?
It’s been phenomenal. Every time we go into camp, it just gets better and better really. I think you can sense it off everyone. There’s such an excitement from the team now. Everyone who is taking part is gunning to go. We want to beat Finland, we want to be out there playing in Tallaght. Everyone is believing and training big. This is the start of something really exciting for this team.
Unfortunately, on the other side of things, female pundits have been getting a lot of stick recently. Is that hard to see?
I think if you look at the Euros this year and all of the women who have been involved, their knowledge is second to none. They’re all really established players. In our group chat, we’re all really open with each other and we’re always texting in saying how class they were at halftime. You have to take it with a pinch of salt. The boys get it too, so we can’t say they don’t get grief. We have to learn how to live with it because eventually, it will die down if there’s no reaction. It is a shame to see people say nasty things but at the end of the day RTÉ and Sky are bringing these women in for a reason. They wouldn’t bring them in if they didn’t think they were going to benefit them by speaking at halftime. It’s amazing. More and more girls are going to see it and want to be part of those days. There are a lot more positives than negatives.
Let’s finish on a positive note. What’s next for Saoirse?
For now, my main focus is on Durham’s first game of the season. I want to excel in this championship and prove them right for signing me. I want to enjoy the moment because a soccer career doesn’t last forever. I’m only 23 and I want to enjoy every minute of it and soak it all in. I dreamt of being a professional soccer player since I was a kid. So I don’t want to let it slip through my fingers.