Jennifer O'Leary caught up with the outgoing chairperson Aoife Lane
THE year was 2015. It was a Tuesday, January 20th, to be exact. And, at a reception in the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, a group of seven women were instrumental in launching the WGPA (Women’s Gaelic Players Association).
The seven founding members included its chairperson Aoife Lane ,Fiona McHale, Anna Geary, Valerie Mulcahy, Kate Kelly, Deirdre Murphy and Gemma Begley.
This was an association set up to improve the playing, personal and professional lives of women playing at the highest level at intercounty level and now provides a solid support to players all over Ireland who represent their county in camogie and ladies’ football.
The year is now 2019, January has come, and with the cold comes further changes in the association. With four of its founding members stepping down, including former Cork camogie-winning captain Anna Geary, Clare camogie native Deirdre Murphy, Mayo footballer Fiona McHale and the great leader, Aoife Lane of Galway, there now is a rejuvenated executive with 11 members on the board. Maria Kinsella from Carlow will now chair the Association and will work to build further on the solid foundations set in place by these inspirational women.
Having made great strides in supporting women’s Gaelic games, the Association is now going from strength to strength.
And, while it takes a strong collective of women to bring about change for women, there was one lady who showed incredible leadership in bringing about this positive change; a woman who was instrumental in pushing for more, a female who wanted better and demanded better for intercounty players.
Aoife Lane was the catalyst in forming the WGPA. I asked Aoife a number of questions about her four years at the helm of the Association – a role she found both challenging and rewarding,
How do you feel about moving on from leading the WGPA, a significant movement in ladies’ football and camogie?
I feel very content with my decision to move on, I think the time is right for me, but also I feel confident for the organisation and happy that it is in safe hands. would be protective of it in some ways and worried that all would be okay, but you can’t be too precious – things move on without you, there are very few areas in life where you are irreplaceable.
The organisation is solid now, it knows itself, it is moving into a very sustainable environment and has excellent people at the forefront, none more so than all the players who are supportive of the organisation, and who want to contribute to continually improving things for ladies’ football and camogie.
You have made many strides since founding the association in 2014, such as introducing scholarships and grants to support players in their education and sport. What do you feel has been the greatest achievement of the WGPA so far?
The greatest achievement is securing Government funding, with a special mention to Deirdre Murphy from Clare for leading that for the WGPA. There are so many good things about the funding; it is a joint project with ladies’ football and camogie, it is acknowledgement from the highest office in the land, it is equal funding across all codes and grades and it is money ring fenced to support a high-performance playing environment for adult county players. It has opened a very important door for the county player and is a show of respect and support for women who reach the highest level possible in their chosen sport.
What were the toughest obstacles you have faced?
The toughest obstacles are always related to issues where players or teams cannot represent their county in their sport. There are so many reasons for this; injury, personal circumstances, team issues, fixture clashes and so on, but regardless, it’s always disappointing and the WGPA aren’t always able to help, or know exactly how to help.
The organisation will always do its best, but equally has to be better in those cases. In many situations, players do such brilliant work in overcoming obstacles at a local level displaying brilliant leadership qualities.
What would be your vision for the WGPA in the years ahead?
Vision questions are always hard! I guess I would like that the organisation has a greater set of resources to be able to help more and continue to make things better. The WGPA is probably working at its maximum, so it needs greater resourcing to move forward and I am confident that will happen.
I would also like that the organisation is to the forefront of all players’ minds as a helpful, supportive, consistent, challenging entity. The organisation definitely needs to build greater awareness levels amongst all members. The bottom line is that every player across every squad in both codes feels equally appreciated and supported.
On a personal level, you seem to have a busy schedule between your work commitments and the many committees you are part of, as well as leading the executive through an exciting time of change in women’s sport in Ireland. How have you juggled it all? Has working for the WGPA been time consuming?
I guess it was a pleasure and, for the most, the experience of a lifetime. Working with the other members of the executive was so much fun and we found our way together to do something that is really positive. It needs new leadership now and new ideas, but we set out to make things better and we achieved that.
It probably has got more time-consuming, and there have been elements I found really challenging, but the change is as much for the organisation as it is for me.
I also got so much from the WGPA in terms of my own personal and professional development, a leadership programme, trips to the US, meeting Billie Jean King and a whole collection of new friends.
I look back now and am happy and content about it all, it’s a nice way to finish. I’m sure it’s like players who retire on their own terms after winning an All-Ireland – the best way to go.
What has been the highlight of being involved in the WGPA?
The highlight is the relationships I built; both with friends and professionals. I was in rooms and conversations that there is no way I would have been near if I hadn’t been involved with the WGPA. It gave me a leg-up into a world that I was fascinated with and I will always be grateful for that.
In one sentence, how would you describe the WGPA?
The WGPA is supportive, reflective, player-led, grounded and player-focused.