Irish eyes were smiling when young footballers from Sligo Rovers visited Finch Farm and Walton Hall Park recently as part of the club’s affiliation with Everton.
Sligo’s Women’s U17s team faced Everton Women’s U18s at the Club’s training ground on Saturday, before taking in the Blues’ high-profile WSL game against Chelsea the following day.
The trip was arranged to celebrate their status as an International Academy Affiliate Club, as Everton continues to strengthen links with its partner clubs around the world.
Sligo Rovers has a natural connection with the Blues, dating way back to Dixie Dean and most recently, club captain, Seamus Coleman.
Previously they have attended for a fixture against the boys’ academy, but this is the first time they have come to visit with their recently formed women’s team.
And Sligo Academy Manager Conor O’Grady was impressed by the welcome he and his young players received on Merseyside.
He said: “It was brilliant and a historic day for us. It’s the first women’s team to travel over here and we have a great affiliation with Everton.
“We had the U14 boys’ team over last year and it was great to get our U17 girls over. For the girls, it’s a first for them to come and see this amazing facility.
“The female game is still very much in its infancy in Ireland in terms of academies. We just want to build on our relationship and affiliation by bringing the teams over and getting used to the environment. Everyone was so friendly and it’s just been brilliant.”
Following Saturday’s game at Finch Farm, the Sligo players also enjoyed a Q&A with Everton’s Irish trio, Megan Campbell, Courtney Brosnan and Heather Payne.
The special visitors, whose senior team was only formed in 2021 and this year made the FAI Cup semi-final, then rounded off a memorable first visit by meeting Everton’s first team squad at Sunday’s WSL clash with Chelsea.
Paddy Byrne, Everton’s International Technical Manager, added: “It was a real pleasure to welcome Sligo Rovers Women over to further strengthen our relationship.
“They have previously been over playing against the boy’s academy sides, and while a lot of our clubs are within the boys’ space, we have USA-based Columbus United with a strong girls’ programme, along with fellow American side Clifton Park, who are in the process of expanding theirs.
“The International Academy has also this year welcomed our first female only football club, Ridge City, from Ghana, who will visit Finch Farm in December.
Our under-17s Drew 3-3 with @EvertonWomen u18s yesterday in Finch Farm.— Sligo Rovers Women (@SligoRvsWomen) November 12, 2023
After the game, the girls met Everton and Ireland internationals Megan Campbell, Courtney Brosnan and Heather Payne. pic.twitter.com/vSjcPvwysX
“This strategic partnership with Sligo widens our affiliation with the Women’s game further and demonstrates that we are always looking to expand our global footprint through affiliate clubs and soccer school programmes.”
Everton’s International Affiliate Programme provides clubs at all tiers of the game with access to elite coaching from Everton’s renowned Academy to support the growth of each club.
The primary focus of the programme is coach education and player development, using a tailored approach and the same curriculum that is adopted within the Category One Everton Academy at Finch Farm.
The initiative includes visits from Everton Academy coaches to clubs in their home markets, as well as the opportunity for players and coaches to travel to Finch Farm each year for a first-hand Academy experience.
In addition, Everton’s Affiliate Programme offers business support that aids the future growth of our partners on the boys’, girls’, men’s and women’s sides of the game.
Find out more HERE.
Everton face Bristol City in the Barclays Women's Super League on Sunday 19 November (1pm GMT).