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Women’s LOI clubs still face closed shop for new UEFA competition

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There has been persistent criticism that the format of the women’s Champions League suits the big clubs from Europe’s main leagues with a near-impossibility for teams from a league like the League of Ireland to progress in Europe.

Apart from the 2011/12 season, when a Peamount United side managed by current senior team boss Eileen Gleeson lost to Paris St Germain, only one Irish club (Raheny United in 2014/15) has made it to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

There was hope in some circles that winners of the domestic cups could enter a new Europa League-style competition but while there will be a second competition from the 2025/2026 season, that will be for clubs who lose out in the early rounds of the Champions League or else for clubs who play in the higher-ranked leagues in Europe.

But as the Women’s League of Ireland is currently ranked 31st, there will be no back-door ticket to UEFA competition from the Women’s Premier Division runners-up here.

For the 2025/26 season, UEFA will create a new league system for the Champions League, upping the number of teams involved from 16 to 18. “It will allow more clubs to compete, with a more competitive and dynamic league stage ensuring every match counts,” a UEFA statement said, explaining their decision.

“The format change means that, without increasing the number of matches at this stage, top teams will go head-to-head more often and earlier and all teams will have more competitive matches and a wide variety of opponents.

“For the first time, UEFA will also organise a second women’s club competition, meaning new teams can test themselves against European opposition, and some teams who are eliminated in the early rounds of the Women’s Champions League will have a second shot at glory.

“The changes to the flagship women’s competition follow similar amendments to UEFA’s new-look men’s club competitions, which will feature the new single-league system from the 2024/25 campaign onwards.

“Both competitions have been developed with the aim of increasing competitiveness and maximising participation while also considering calendar constraints and player load.”

In the new competition, clubs knocked out of the early rounds of the Champions League have a second chance to play in Europe while the third-placed teams in the top 13 domestic leagues (the likes of Denmark, Portugal, Norway and Scotland), and the runners-up in domestic leagues rated between 18 and 24 in UEFA’s ranking system (Switzerland, Albania, Belgium, Bosnia), will get to play. The League of Ireland is in 31st place in UEFA’s coefficient system for domestic leagues, behind Croatia and just ahead of Slovenia, Turkey and Greece.

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