Denis Hurley chats to Cork chair Tracey Kennedy about the growing role of women in GAA
TRACEY Kennedy is happy to be the first woman to serve on the executive of the Cork County Board, but she is keen that she wouldn’t be the only female to do so.
Kennedy created history at the end of 2012 when she was elected PRO, in 2015 she was elected vice-chair and last year she ascended to the role of chair, the first woman to serve in each role.
While she has noted an increase in female representation at club level since she first became involved with her local underage side Killeagh/Ita’s in 2002, generating a follow-through to the county stage has been a challenge.
Kennedy counts herself lucky to have been part of a club where it wasn’t seen as a novelty to have a lady on the board.
‘I became juvenile secretary in 2002,’ she says, ‘I was asked to get involved and I did that for a year before becoming the secretary of the adult club.
‘One of the things that made it easier was that it was perfectly normal for women to be involved – Mary Fitzgibbon, who is the current club secretary, was first in the role in the 1980s, when I’d imagine it might have been unusual.
‘There have been quite a number of women and no fuss was made, one thing I’d always say about Killeagh is that there’s a job for everyone!
‘There were other female secretaries too, people like Assumpta Parker in Youghal. You might have got the odd surprised look from a referee when handing in a team list but that was about it.’
As with the journey of a player, administrators tend to go from club to division. When Kennedy made that jump, she stood out in a roomful of male delegates, but it was something she was able to use to her advantage.
‘When I started to go to the East Cork board for the club, I was the only female but it wasn’t that big a thing,’ she says.
‘I was made to feel welcome, maybe other women haven’t always had the same experience, and I was encouraged to run for election by people.
‘Subconsciously, it was probably something I made use of. It’s easy to pick out the person who’s different so I became well-known very quickly and it can be easier to build relationships.
‘I can honestly say that being female has never been an obstacle in my GAA journey. I’m asked sometimes if people go easier on me and my answer is that, if that is the case, I’m glad I’m not a man!’
Looking at the landscape at club level now, she sees an improvement.
‘There are certainly more women in officer roles now than when I started,’ she says.
‘That goes all the way up to chairing – it’s still unusual but there are a number of them, such as Orla Kelleher in Dungourney, Aisling Murphy in Clyda Rovers, Margaret O’Callaghan in Kilbrin and Dohenys have an all-female top table with Mary Maybury as chair.
‘It’s becoming more normal, certainly, and it’s improving but there will always be room for it to be better.’
However, it’s getting people into positions above club level that is the challenge.
‘Apart from myself, there are no female Cork county board officers,’ she says, ‘and it’s hard to see where the next one will come from, even though there are brilliant women there.
‘There are a few divisional officers, Beara have made big strides that way, but even in the upper echelons, I think there are only one or two women on Central Council, though that will change now with representatives from ladies’ football and camogie.
‘It’s hard to see what can be done, as the challenges in GAA are the same as in society in general, a lot of the time the burden of childcare falls to the women and that makes things difficult.
‘There are various other expectations too that make it hard to be part of something that involves so much of your free time. I think targeting viable candidates is one way, I wouldn’t have got involved unless my club targeted me, and studies show that women do often need more persuading than men for roles like these.
‘There had to be a conscious effort, maybe that might mean adjusting meeting times to something more suitable to go hand-in-hand with family life. It’s encouraging to see clubs like Fermoy adopt a one-club model for all its codes across both genders, and if that becomes more widespread it will lead to more involvement as the codes start to work together.’
This is the second of Kennedy’s three years as chair, and she would like to have another woman on the executive by the time she departs.
‘I had hoped last year to organise a forum for women in GAA and how we could get more involved.
‘My best hope is to encourage women to consider running, I’d like to be leaving the table with another woman coming to it.
‘A number of roles will be available at the end of next year but women tend not to like elections as they can be adversarial and difficult, I certainly didn’t like them. It’s something we’ll have to look at.’
A big breakthrough this year has been the number of football double-headers, with Cork due to host another next week and also in the championship in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on June 1st. It’s something Kennedy hopes will become a regular thing.
‘It’s something I said at Congress this year, regarding the involvement of ladies’ football and camogie at Central Council,’ she says.
‘To me, it’s a no-brainer that you’d sit down at the start of the year and identify double-headers at a national level, it shouldn’t come down to counties arranging it.
‘There are opportunities for hurling and camogie double-headers, football and ladies’ football and camogie and ladies’ football, and I’d hope that they’d be taken.’