Season curtailment was ‘inevitable’ admits Leeds United Women boss Dan O’Hearne

The season is over for Leeds United Women after this week the FA revealed their plans to resolve a long period of disruption to non-elite teams.

Saturday, 20th March 2021, 5:45 am
SEASON OVER: Leeds United Women's head coach Dan O'Hearne felt that the FA's decision to curtail the season was "inevitable". Picture: Steve Riding.

In a statement released on Monday, the FA said: “The 2020-21 season for tiers 3-6 of the Women’s Football Pyramid will be curtailed with immediate effect and declared incomplete, with no further league fixtures taking place this season.”

The decision renders worthless the draws, losses, and wins registered by the Whites so far – two apiece – and denies the side, who are ambitious to reach the Women’s Super League, a shot at promotion to the Northern Premier Division for the second season running.

The news came as no surprise to Leeds United Women head coach Dan O’Hearne.

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TEAM ETHIC: Leeds United Women's 2020/21 campaign in Division One North has been declared null and void. Picture: Steve Riding.

“It was inevitable,” he said.

“How are you going to fit 19 games in between now and the end of the season? It’s impossible – something had to give.

“There are worse things happening in life than football and promotions and relegations.”

Some league participants were less philosophical in their response, with a sense of déjà vu inspiring expressions of anger and disappointment on social media.

O’Hearne hopes that a fresh start in August – with consensus reached at the outset on what should happen in the event that coronavirus mars a third consecutive term – will avoid further discontent.

A pre-arranged contingency might have appeased Wolves manager Daniel McNamara, one of those leading the charge after his side – twice shoo-ins for promotion from Division One Midlands – once again missed out after the season wass declared null and void.

“The biggest disappointment for me was the lessons that didn’t get learnt from last season,” McNamara told talkSPORT on Monday night. “Twelve months on, to do it again and effectively lose two years of female football is unthinkable.”

But for the aggrieved parties, hope lies in one crucial difference between the seasons’ conclusions: a shift in the FA’s policy on club movement. Amid a resurgence of calls for a revised league structure, the FA’s statement suggests that they could accommodate division expansion on this occasion, where last June the movement of clubs was restricted to “where absolutely necessary”, making up the numbers in leagues short of teams.

The fine details of this process, which the FA hope will “support the stability and integrity of the Women’s Football Pyramid”, are still to be confirmed, but if the organisation choose to recycle last year’s criteria then Leeds United Women could tick all the boxes.

The Premier League club-backed side are an attractive prospect; together with a wealth of facilities, funding, and staff, the Whites boast a bright recent on-field record which would put them in a strong position should the club choose to apply. If granted, a move to the Northern Premier Division would make a further valuable resource available to the team – graduates of Leeds United girls’ academy, whose talent pathway only feeds clubs in tier three and above – as well as marking a big step toward the side’s top flight ambitions.

Another significant departure from the situation in March 2020 is the prospect of friendlies.

In Monday’s statement, the FA actively encouraged the arrangement of alternative fixtures which were simply not possible this time last year, offering a glimmer of hope in the gloom of another curtailment.

“Everyone wants to get back to playing,” O’Hearne added. “That’s the main thing.”

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