The vogue for players announcing their retirements at intercounty level is a new one. Players are now in a position to call a halt to their stint with the county team at their own choosing. Granted, sometimes it may be a management call that they won’t feature, but a player is now able to release a statement and let everyone know they’ve hung up their boots at the top level rather than just have the phone stop calling and be in the dark as much as the average supporter who is asking him why isn’t he “in with the rest of them” this year.
This new vogue has yet to extend fully across to women’s GAA yet though. Save Valerie Mulcahy, Anna Geary and potentially Cora Staunton, you don’t hear of the women who retire from the intercounty scene. This struck me especially this week as the National League rolls around for the LGFA. As with every year, there has been a plethora of retirements yet there is no fanfare for these players, no pat on the back, no trending on social media. These players have put their lives on hold for the cause, the same way lads have, and at the end of it they just return to their clubs without so much as a thank you in many cases.
And they should be thanked. When it was pointed out by Jonny Cooper this week that he played 4 club games in 2016 I couldn’t help but laugh. Women at intercounty level barely miss club TRAINING never mind league games. Three of Kildare’s most brilliant footballers of recent years decided to finally depart the scene this year in Paula Keatley, Maria Moolick and Aisling Savage. I managed Maria and Aisling at club level and there was times I had to almost ban them from training with us because they were doing so much. The girls live for football, they live for their clubs and their counties and yet the thanks is minimal at best.
Kildare won the Intermediate All Ireland football final back in September and the joy that victory brought to young girls and boys around Kildare was immense. An All Ireland win is huge no matter what team or what level and the inspiration the 2016 Kildare side gave to primary school children in the county can never be measured fully. And yet these great players retire without the applause they deserve, stepping back to give their club all they have.
The lack of glamour in women’s football is amplified though when you realise that there are other players from Kildare who were hoping to step away from a time or retire, who can’t as they are needed to keep the team going. One of the three All Ireland champions in Ladies football appointed a new manager this January, but he resigned within days citing the lack of numbers. A true Kildare stalwart in Morgan O’Callaghan stepped in as interim manager and it appears that he will have to stay on for the year. Imagine the headlines and column inches if this happened in the men’s game?
Or the fact that Cavan manager Conor Barry felt that he could no longer continue – after over two years of huge progress – because he could not get the backing of the county board to pay medical bills for the players. Again, if this happened Cavan’s men’s team (who haven’t had the same levels of success in recent years as the women have), it would be national news and stakeholders from all sides would be weighing in.
It’s great to see that the League is being promoted by Lidl’s sponsorship, its great that the spotlight is getting that bit brighter but EVERYONE needs to do more to ensure that these women putting themselves out there to bring glory to their counties are given a proper platform. Imagine that as of now (Friday morning), on the LGFA website, that THREE venues from the 16 NFL games this weekend are TBC. To Be Confirmed. On the Friday before the league kicks off.
Add to that that out of the 16 games, just TWO, are being played at the county grounds (well done Tyrone and Fermanagh).
Just what the hell is going on is what I’m asking. These are the reasons we see 15 men in ill fitting suits at the launch of the National Sports Centre in a photo that was widely derided on social media yesterday. When we don’t all stand up and support the players when they are playing, when we don’t demand better for the players, why would they step into administration roles? When we don’t call out sexism at every level of sport, we are doing a disservice to all the little girls who roar and shout on their heroes in Croke Park. It needs to stop,and everyone who cares about sport needs to be realise that it won’t change without action.