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What a final! Chelsea's FA Cup triumph proves women's game is past point of pandering

When Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert rifled the ball towards the goal of Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck on Sunday afternoon, there was a collective gasp around Wembley Stadium.

It struck the underside of the crossbar and nestled wonderfully into the back of the net, giving the Blues the lead in the game. Until Hayley Raso’s equaliser in the final minute of the 90, it looked like it would secure the Blues their fourth Women’s FA Cup trophy, too.

It would be Emma Hayes’ side that came out on top after extra time still, with Sam Kerr’s second goal of the afternoon firing Chelsea to their second title in seven days, after the Women’s Super League triumph last Sunday. It was another brace on another big day from the sensational Aussie.

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But as this thrilling game was going on – a game that also included an incredible strike from City’s Lauren Hemp and splace on the scoresheet for Kerr for the fourth domestic cup final in succession – frustration was bubbling across social media.

For all this that was happening, it wasn’t always the football that was the focal point in the coverage.

“[The] women's game must also break from the shackles of every broadcast having discussions about growth of the women's game,” Arsenal legend Ian Wright took to Twitter to say at half time.

“The football in this game has been brilliant. Talk about [it]. So many incidents and tactical battles out there.”

It’s one big thing that the women’s game is tussling with as it continues to grow is that talk of that progress often overshadows the game itself.

Record attendances, viewing figures and games at big stadiums with lots of exposure are great for the sport, of course. But one of the big ways that growth can continue is simply by, when it comes down talking about an FA Cup final in itself, focusing on the football.

The battle between Georgia Stanway and Cuthbert in midfield was excellent to watch – two terrier-like footballers going head-to-head to try and control possession for their teams.

Watching Hemp, one of the best players in the country this season, take on Chelsea defender Jess Carter, the England international who has had a stellar campaign herself, was a treat.

Seeing Chloe Kelly, the young England winger, out on the Wembley pitch just a year after a heart-breaking ACL injury ruled her out of the Olympic Games, and playing well, was wonderful.

Seeing Ji So-yun, arguably the greatest foreign player ever to grace the Women’s Super League, play her final game for Chelsea was an ‘I was there’ moment.

There was certainly no lack of things to talk about from a football perspective in a fixture that Chelsea manager Emma Hayes described as always being “a chess match”, beforehand. It certainly panned out that way, too.

It’s not a new problem the sport faces. It’s been something it has grappled with for a while now. But if nearly 50,000 people are turning up for an FA Cup final, is the game really still in a stage of talking about how great that is?

"The one thing for me is that I'd like to see everybody - like [the media] - just talk about the football,” Jess Fishlock, the OL Reign midfielder told reporters when she was in England on loan at Reading last season. The Wales international, a stalwart of the NWSL in the United States, had noted the steps the WSL still needed to take and was elaborating on her point. Her words came to mind again on Sunday.

“That would help take [the WSL] to the next level. I think we talk too much about the men's club is investing in the women or the women's crowds. I'd like to see everyone take the surround sound away and focus on the football.

“What's the tactics? Just talk about football. I think that would take the game naturally to the next level.

“I don't think we need to pander around anymore. Women's football is a high level product and I think we need to focus on that far more than the other stuff. I think that time has gone."

Sunday’s final was a thrilling conclusion to the domestic season in England. It has had a title race that went down to the wire and a dramatic final day to go with it, it witnessed a fantastic Continental Cup final between Chelsea and City in March and Wembley was treated to another cracker this time, too.

When there are jaw-dropping moments on the pitch, why should anything else be the focus?