Jennifer O’Leary - The voice of experience tackles the topics that matter
GIVEN the weeks, and the year, that’s in it, the word ‘unity’ has been mentioned a lot of late.
The quest for a united Ireland underpinned the events of the 1916 Rising and subsequent War of Independence; it remains an unfulfilled goal and, in a similar vein, Gaelic games in Ireland lack a cohesion too.
The idea of amalgamating the GAA – which administers Gaelic football, hurling, handball and rounders – with the Camogie Association and the Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association under the one umbrella has long being a topic of discussion.
In 2013, the then-GAA Preisdent Liam O’Neill voiced his support for a coming together, as he felt that ‘it could open up huge possibilities for us to do what we do better’.
He also acknowledged how it would allow the women gain access to venues and facilities and he used the term ‘regenerate the association’ to describe this shift. It all sounded very positive and immediate but, without doubt, it was a huge undertaking for anyone to bring into effect.
Former Camogie Association President Aileen Lawlor had said around that time too that plans to bring together all codes always eventually failed and there were fears among the camogie circles that they could be swallowed up by the bigger fish.
In my opinion, there needs to be more enthusiasm, positivity and a ‘yes we can’ attitude towards this change if we really want this to happen. Otherwise, any efforts to bring this ideal to life are futile and doomed from the very beginning. Those in office need to approach this topic with a ‘will do’ determination.
So, what are the benefits of joining all forces together as one? Sure, aren’t the ladies doing fine just as they are? You can possibly counteract my argument by acknowledging how fast ladies’ football is growing with a new, lucrative, three-year sponsorship deal with Lidl. Yes, it’s clear that they are certainly going from strength to strength. And with the Camogie Association now after launching its re-energised national development plan for 2016-2019, entitled ‘Inspire to play, empower to stay’, there are strategies in place to make major strides. They plan to grow participation levels and maintain interest, to raise awareness of the game both home and abroad and further links with the media to promote the game.
However, a move to bring all games together as one will still, in my opinion, open up so many more opportunities for men and women alike. With the links the GAA currently have with the media, it would allow for increased coverage for all players.
If the right work is done and some creative marketing is undertaken, attendances at games would increase and the ladies’ games would be exposed to a wider audience, at home and abroad. The opportunities to grow the game even further are endless. Everyone working together will allow for a sharing of ideas and knowledge, a common and understanding approach.
The sharing of facilities will allow players to better themselves as players and improve their skills. Men and women working together will also send out the message to other associations and sports that there is a shared appreciation and respect for women and men in sport, that there can be equality. It will teach our youth that equality exists between the sexes.
It’s clear that a dramatic change such as this cannot and will not happen overnight.
However, if we pay attention to clubs around the country who have adopted a ‘unified model’ Gaelic games approach, we can see that change is good and if it can work at club level, with more work at national level it too is feasible.
There are many clubs within Dublin who have taken these steps to joining forces and a few in Cork, one being St Finbarr’s.
I recently attended a medal presentation in an Armagh club called Derrynoose and they decided in 2008 to take the step forward in integrating their sports into one code. According to the club, ‘This saw the amalgamation of colours into one jersey, all playing under the umbrella of Derrynoose GAC’.
They currently field 23 teams from underage to senior in all codes and are one of the small number of clubs that promote all four sports in a club.
Because of this amalgamation they are going from strength to strength and it has opened more doors to funding with a 3G pitch built in 2012 thanks to the hard work of all members running the men’s and ladies’ sports together as one club.
The Camogie Association are determined to strengthen their links with the GAA through their Aontas programme, identifying how camogie would benefit through this link, especially in the area of games and club development and media opportunites.
A change is coming, but these things always happen gradually. Like any change, there will be trepidation for the future of the games – some may worry that ladies’ football and camogie would become poor relations compared to their male counterparts.
But with the right people in place, the correct structures and accurate planning this can allow our Gaelic games to flourish.
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic called on Irishmen and Irishwomen to strike for freedom, with equal status applied – it should fall on us all to do our best to bring about this situation with our games too.