Off the Centre Circle by Ger McCarthy
The summer of 2019 was an unforgettable one for the Cork LGFA U14 panel. The scenes at St Rynagh’s GAA grounds in Banagher, Offaly, painted the happiest of pictures as Cork celebrated their All-Ireland LGFA U14 A title success in June of that year.
West Cork and other local clubs were well represented on that panel with Sophie Collins (Kinsale), Fiona Twohig (Valley Rovers), Katie O’Driscoll (Clonakilty), Millie Condon (captain, Clonakilty), Keelin Murphy (Ilen Rovers), Caoimhe McEvoy (Clonakilty), Ciara White (Clonakilty), Ella Downey (Bantry Blues), Lia Hogan (O’Donovan Rossa), Sarah McSweeney (Gabriel Rangers), Siofra Patwell (Clonakilty), Darragh Farr (management, Dohenys) all involved.
Family members, friends, club mates and supporters happily mingled following the Rebel’s comprehensive victory over Galway. The culmination of two years preparation, 19 competitive matches and hundreds of hours training saw Cork deservedly win their first ‘Platinum’ (A) U14 ladies football trophy in over six years.
Alas, Covid-19 has played havoc with the LGFA’s underage grades over the past two years. Yet, hopes were high of a return to normal inter-county competitions with the easing of level 5 restrictions and return to full-contact training.
Disappointingly, the LGFA announced that there will be no All-Ireland series at the U14, U16 or minor girls grades in 2021. Provincial competitions should go ahead but the decision not to add the All-Ireland series has baffled, upset and angered the ladies football community inside and outside of Cork.
What has rankled ladies football supporters the most is the fact GAA U17 and U20 boys All-Ireland championships have been given the go ahead for the second year in a row. So why not the girls?
‘Having been involved with underage inter-county teams this needs to be changed! Vital competitions for these girls. Equal treatment (same) as the boys needed,’ former Cork LGFA minor selector and West Cork LGFA senior coach Anne O’Grady tweeted.
This is not a case of anyone throwing their toys out the pram when it comes to demanding an All-Ireland series for girls. It is a straightforward question of the LGFA. If the boys U17 and U20 All-Ireland championships can be run in a safe manner then why not the girls?
The importance of the LGFA’s inter-county competitions in preparing elite players for stepping up to minor and senior level cannot be understated. In Cork alone, hundreds of girls are currently trialling to make the U14, U16 and minor LGFA squads. They feel they are entitled to a full programme of inter-county matches now that the all-clear has been given.
Hopefully, a compromise can be reached otherwise a generation of young ladies footballers could be lost to the game.
On a more positive note, Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers announced that female gaelic football and camogie players will receive the same amount of funding as their male counterparts earlier this week. Unsurprisingly, that edict was universally welcomed but a long time coming.
For far too long, LGFA and Camogie players have been out of pocket when representing their county while their male equivalents were looked after by the GAA. Up until this year, male GAA players received €1,200 in funding while female players had to make do with €400. Minister Chambers’ decision sees men’s funding unchanged but females’ trebling to match their male equivalents.
Acknowledging women have every right to expect the same treatment as male players marks an important milestone in the GAA, Camogie and LGFA’s shared histories.
‘For all of our young women and girls playing Gaelic football, we need to make sure there is no artificial glass ceiling when it comes to sport. I’m serious about rectifying that,’ Minister Chambers said.
‘It is absolutely important we have parity of esteem and equality when it comes to funding. I’m going to do it this year.’
Those comments will be music to the ears of thousands of current inter-county camogie and ladies footballers all over the country. At the same time, it is hard not to think about all those players who came before them and toiled equally hard on their county’s behalf only to be left out of pocket.
Although addressing the issue of inequality, the minister can expect questions as to why 67% of all government grants to athletes in this county is now allocated to male and female GAA players. Plenty of other sports do not enjoy anything like the same financial support. Their reaction to this week’s announcement will be interesting.
So, whilst there were plenty of congratulatory social media messages reacting favourably to the government’s decision to implement equal funding in the GAA, one indisputable fact remains. It should never have taken this long.