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Time To Take Action 

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. 

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Set for success – Mayo Volleyball Club

Volleyball is one of those sports that when you take a moment to think about, should be a damn sight more popular in Ireland. Like basketball it is an indoor game, played over the winter months, and is almost never subject to the vagaries of the weather – why we are not a nation of Liberos, Hitters and Setters, is hard to fathom!

Although the sport is very much concentrated on the Eastern seaboard here in Ireland there is a burgeoning volleyball scene in the West of Ireland and this year for the first time there is a team based in Mayo.

The Mayo Volleyball Club was co-founded by Edel Nolan (Irish international) and Mikal O’Boyle who both played with Galway VC in the top division of the Irish Volleyball League over the past couple of seasons. The two experienced and talented players decided that the time was right to set up a club in Mayo though and along with coach Arkdiusz Poplonski they founded Mayo VC.

South Mayo has long been a powerhouse at schools level in volleyball with Claremorris and Kiltimagh to the fore nationally over the past twenty years and it was no surprise when several former players from those championship winning sides found their way back to the sport.

Starting from scratch, Mayo VC have been nothing short of sensational in their debut season winning five from five in Division 2 of the league and hope in the coming years to progress through the divisions to the top tier of the league, as Mikal and Arkdiusz explain in the video below.

They also pointed out that the sport is for everyone, and considering the competitive & fun nature of the game, (and the fact that you don’t have to worry about the weather!), they hope to see more and more women in Mayo find the sport for the first sport or for those who gave up the game after school to return to volleyball.

For more information check out Mayo VC on Facebook  & Twitter !

The Irish Volleyball Association website can be found at www.volleyballireland.com

Mayo Volleyball Club train in Barnacarol Community centre every Wednesday at 6:30 and St. Louis Community school Kiltimagh Fridays at 6:30 and new members are very welcome.

All Ireland Junior LGFA semi-final preview

The All Ireland championships are down to the last four in Senior, Intermediate and Junior in the Ladies club football. I visited Mayo and Connacht champions Kilmoremoy to talk to some of those behind the success of the club this year and preview their semi-final showdown with Kinsale, the Cork & Munster standard-bearers.

It promises to be an intriguing battle in Ballina (Sunday, Nov 20th @ 1pm), with two young and up-and-coming sides facing off for a place in the All Ireland final.

Kinsale clinched the Cork trophy with a high scoring victory over Dromtarriffe (4-17 to 1-14) after plundering five goals in their semi-final win over Naomh Abhan.

In Munster, Cork star Orla Finn was to the fore as they first overcame Dungarvan and then Limerick’s Drom Broadford in Mallow by four points setting up their last four clash with Kilmoremoy.

The Mayo women meanwhile out-scored St James of Galway 6-14 1-11 in the Connacht decider. That came on top of their 5-16 to 3-7 victory over Michael Glaveys of Roscommon in the penultimate round.

With both sides in cracking form it promises to be a footballing feast on Sunday November 20th!

No One Shouted Start

I heard last week of the discussion held at the Mayo County Board meeting regarding the appointment of a much needed Commercial Manager for Mayo GAA and I despaired.

After reading Daniel Carey’s excellent report in the Mayo News that despair deepened. To read that several delegates raised the issue is heartening but the responses from the top table and those who previously sat on the top table of Mayo GAA I found demoralising.

Chairman Mike Connelly said he would “really love” a Commercial Manager but now is not the time because it’s not affordable. But if now – when we are already in debt- is not the time, then when is? Do we continue hoping for the best and muddling through for another twenty years or do we strike now when on the pitch we are at an all time high in terms of marketability and competitiveness? Why wait?

It’s over five years since Liam Horan and a steering committee of 19 other individuals drew up an impressive and worthy blueprint for the future of Mayo football with the Strategic Action Plan. The plan, despite it’s clear value, was ignored by the County Board. They came up with their own which – and I stand to be corrected – has not been fully carried through on. Regardless of that however, the members of the group tasked with finding a vision for the future of Mayo GAA – 86 in total, all passionate and devoted Mayo GAA supporters, including the future senior football manager Stephen Rochford – disassociated themselves from the ‘official plan’. You can read the full reasons for that here , but the most damning part, written in May 2011 remember, is the following:

The final plan now produced ticks a box, but does no more than that. Somewhere, an entry can now be made: “Yes, Mayo now has a strategic plan.” But it is a dry document without any soul or heart. The plan produced does not provide for Mayo doing something dramatic, something bold, something truly innovative. It is hard to disagree with any of the proposals in it, but it certainly will not inspire. If adopted, it means that Mayo GAA is happy to keep doing what it has always done, thereby continuing to fail to realise its vast potential as a GAA force. A strategic plan should have vision, creativity and passion – the very traits that should be synonymous with our county, and the very traits our people have displayed here in Mayo, throughout Ireland, and all over the world. This is a plan that could be produced by any county, anywhere – any county simply aspiring to tick a box.

I was reminded of that passage when I read the comments from the County Board meeting this week. Something dramatic. Something bold. Appointing a Commercial Director is not exactly any of those things, but for Mayo to truly compete at every level, in all codes, it is what is needed. We need our executive to stop fretting and take the plunge. Even Kildare County Board, a by-word for financial issues in recent years (a board that saw fit to have a Church Gate collection as one of their main sources of income in the not so distant past) have now appointed an Operations Manager to take on the responsibility of finding new sponsors. They are taking the onus and burden off the County Board who can go about their main business of keeping the game alive in the county.

And yet, and yet, here in Mayo, we are afraid to do this. In the words of JP Lambe, former County Board Treasurer  “We found out that the commercial manager, before he would do anything, his fee would be roughly €50,000 a year. So that kinda knocked the commercial manager on the head.”

Let this then sink in for a moment – the Mayo GAA Strategic Plan forecast that a Commercial Manager could bring in between “€500,000 and €850,000 A YEAR” (capitals my own).

Surely the position is created with the intention of it paying for itself – targets included in the contract, bonuses related to ensure that targets are met or exceeded. It’s how the business world works, it’s not a mystery.

So we are afraid to spend €50,000 to create multiples of that? (As an aside, do the Mayo County Board intend handing a suitcase full of cash over as a salary right off the bat? Is everything paid upfront or what’s the story there?)

Why is there such opposition and such fear? Are the executive afraid to let go of all the power? This is surely not it as these are good, passionate and committed Mayo people, but they need to see the light. We are already behind our greatest rivals in Dublin, and but for the will and talent of the players and management of the last five years we would be even further behind. Imagine the players took the same attitude as the County Board? “We found out Dublin have more money than us so that knocked the idea of beating them on the head?”

Current treasurer Kevin O’Toole had the following to say at the meeting. “Mayo is a brand name, but don’t assume that there’s a huge pile of money out there … We have cowboy operators and they are raising money on the backs of the Mayo team … It would be dangerous to assume that there’s a huge amount of money out there … We do not get the same grants as Dublin, we do not get the same sponsors as Dublin. But we do maximise what we can.”

Well Kevin, do you know how to stop these ‘cowboys’? You start by owning fundraising for Mayo GAA. You start by not making  the silly mistakes that were made in 2014 when Mayo were in New York. If Roscommon can go to the States and come back with €300k, and Kerry can raise €1million there, what is stopping a Commercial Manager from Mayo doing exactly that? Why were the County Board distancing themselves from fundraisers this year (in New York  & London), becoming embroiled in unnecessary controversy.

Put an official Mayo stamp on fundraising, make sure that in the future every single person in the world knows that if it’s a Mayo fundraiser being organised then it is organised right and it has the seal of approval and is overseen by our CM. Make sure that they are done right and maximised. We have an amazing diaspora, and even more amazing ambassadors who should be brought to the fore – other counties with less profile can do it and Mayo can’t? I don’t think so.

What Kevin O’Toole did get right though is that Mayo is a brand. And it’s one of the greatest brands in the GAA, and in Irish sport. It’s a marketer’s dream – and at a time when people in the United States are turning off in their droves from the NFL and watching the amateur college football games instead, can Mayo GAA not look at this and realise that we have something that could potentially become world renowned? Everyone loves an underdog story – no one cheers for the Empire over the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars do they? Mayo are an amazing story, and when you throw in the amateur ethos of the games, well then…

Imagine a Mayo GAA shop at Ireland West Airport? Imagine a list of club and intercounty games, football and hurling, alongside Mayo GAA gear at an airport where almost 700,000 people annually arrive and depart? Sky Sports beam the GAA to Britain – Ireland West are looking to increase numbers from Britain…. anyone see a correlation?

And even those ideas are down the line, after we look inwards or to bigger commercial businesses for income. Look at the talent in this country that has been imported abroad. How much are we losing out on by not having a structure in place to try and work with those who have left these shores and long to return, or those who have moved outside the county but still want to be part of something bigger, something communal, something to be proud – something like Mayo GAA?

Local Streaming have shown the way in recent years, but it is something that has been blindingly obvious for over five years now. Why have the County Board not incorporated Local Streaming to beam live games via the Mayo GAA website? Charge a small annual subscription, or one-off fees for club championship games and ensure that the many thousands of Mayo supporters around the world can have a chance to watch their local team play, stay connected to their club and to Mayo GAA, all the while contributing a small amount to the cause. Get a sponsor for the broadcast as Armagh have with Linwoods, and it pays for itself. Imagine also how easy it would be to sell advertising on the Mayo GAA website if you knew that people all over the world would be clicking on it regularly to watch matches? It just seems so simple that perhaps I’m missing something….

(Side-note: I understand the brilliant Tg4 coverage has to be accounted for, but that is only at the SF final stage, and a deal could be hammered out to show the game via the website in regions that Tg4 wouldn’t reach.)

We can look at Dublin and crib about their wealth and their numerous sponsorships but why not just take them on at their own game? Why not go after an official airline, an official training kit sponsor, an official drinks company, an official bloody thumbtack if it comes to it? Why stay tied to one sponsor? That’s not the way of modern sport so why do we do it? When you stop navel-gazing it’s amazing what you can see in front of you.

There are hundreds and hundreds of reasons to do appoint a Commercial manager. There is a Mayo GAA brand that could become one of the biggest in Ireland, the biggest in the world if marketed right – and yes that is hyperbole, but what are we in Mayo if not dreamers? Why not shoot for the moon? Why not look to go beyond what others have done in the past? Why not create our own blueprint for what success in the GAA is?

Why not speculate to accumulate so that one day we don’t have to burden our clubs with extra charges for All Ireland final tickets, so that we can ensure that hurling grows in the county so we’re not waiting decades to produce the next Keith Higgins or Kenny Feeney? Why not harness the good-will of the public, why not create a Former Players Association under the wing of the Co Board to harness the talents of our players once they hang up their boots?

Why don’t we dream off the pitch as well as on it to create something bigger than is already there?

To paraphrase the great John Healy – Isn’t it time we shouted it’s time to start?

All Ireland Junior Camogie Final

There are bigger and arguably more important games on this weekend but there’s only one game that stands out in my mind. This Sunday Johnstownsbridge Camógs take on Athleague of Roscommon in the All Ireland Junior Camogie final in Kinnegad at 2.15pm.

When they overcame a very strong Clanmaurice in the re-arranged All Ireland semi-final in the University of Limerick last Saturday Johnstownbridge created history. Across Senior, Intermediate and Junior, Men’s & Ladies Football, Hurling and Camogie, they became just the sixth Kildare club ever to reach an All Ireland decider.

Two-Mile-House (Men’s IFC), Grangenolvan, Eadestown & Athgarvan (Ladies JFC), and Confey (Ladies IFC) have all reached the big day, but JTB are the first hurling team from the county to journey this far.

It is testament to the sheer effort and resolve in the club over the years though that they have finally reached this juncture in their history. Winners of the last five Kildare County Senior Camogie Championships, they have survived scares a plenty over that last half decade, and their longevity can be put down to one simple fact – they were determined to reach, and win, an All Ireland title with this group of players.

From not really knowing what a Leinster campaign held in store after their first county title, to juggling dual commitments after similarly successful county football seasons, to the heartbreak of a late, late loss to the mighty Myshall in the worst conditions imaginable, Leinster presented massive heartache for JTB over the years. Their fascinating rivalry with Meath’s Kilmessan saw the Royal champions come out on top in the Leinster semi-final in 2014 and subsequently go on and take the All Ireland crown.

It was the second time in a row that JTB had been beaten by the eventual champions but they rallied and in 2015 they managed to overcome an arduous three games in a week to edge past Kilmessan (who themselves were playing a third game in seven days) in a thriller and finally taste victory in Leinster.

This came at the end of another gruelling county campaign – part of the reason JTB have been so close to challenging for ultimate honours is due to the strength of their opposition in Kildare in fact. Cappagh, St Laurences, and of course their closest rivals Celbridge have pushed them on a level every year and it’s in no small part due to those battles that JTB are where they are.

Eight days after winning the county they beat the Louth champions. Three days later they beat the Westmeath standard bearers. Three days later they knocked out Kilmessan. Seven days later they beat Tara of London in the All Ireland quarter-final. Last Saturday they saw off Munster kingpins Clanmaurice. Some of the victories have been won at a canter, others dug out – they trailed early to Kilmessan, they wobbled against against Clanmaurice, they were neck and neck with Celbridge and Raharney for long stretches.

Now they face an Athleague side you have seen off multiple All Ireland winners in their own county in Four Roads, a side who will have their own stories to tell and will be filled with  as much confidence as JTB and it will be warranted on both sides – they have seen off all comers and have reached the pinnacle. Sentences that begin with the phrase “It’s only…” should be firmly shut down if they raise their head in relation to either of these sides.

It’s been a remarkable year and whatever the outcome on Sunday, it’s a year worth celebrating as another barrier has been broken down by a Kildare camogie team. It is worth celebrating by everyone in the county, this is a team to savour, to follow and to praise. They have pushed boundaries and played the game as it should be played. They’ve bounced back from tough defeats and lived to fight another day and any other cliché you can think of but they’ve done everything you’d wish your own club or county would do. And they’ve done it with grace and skill and the backing of a loyal support that spans every age-group.

It might not be the glamour game of the weekend, it might not even get mentioned in the media on Sunday evening or Monday morning, but this Sunday afternoon in Kinnegad, you will not see more committed players or a greater will to win anywhere in the country than those in the blue, green and white of Johnstownbridge.

Get behind them and give them the respect and support they deserve.

 

 

 

Who wins from social media sports shaming?

“Absolutely mental scoreline in the Ladies under 16 Championship” read a tweet that popped up on my timeline last night. I knew what was going to be revealed when I clicked into the site – I had seen the result earlier myself – but I was still hugely disappointed to be proved right.

Hand on heart I really don’t see the value in this sort of thing being broadcast across social media. I understand that sites need clicks to drive advertising, yadda yadda, but really, do they need to humiliate people along the way? And that is what this is, a humiliation. The team that was hammered tonight did not go out to be lose heavily and they certainly then did not expect (or need) the result to be shared by a website with over 55,000 followers on Twitter.

I have an issue with any of these types of freak results in any sport being shared on social media even if they are for adult sides, but I think we really have to draw the line when it comes to underage sides. When I was a kid I played on teams that suffered ferocious beatings. I remember coming off pitches blue with the cold as a corner forward not having seen, nevermind touched the ball, asking my brother, our goalkeeper, how many goals the opposition had scored. I lost a game once 4-16 to 0-0, and others by unknown tallies. The thing was, these results were never broadcast to the country. I managed a team where we shipped seven goals in a game and a couple of months later we beat the same team in a league final. Thankfully these results weren’t broadcast for the internet’s amusement, but the thing is freak results happen all the time. The problem is we just see the gory details and there is no context given.

Last weekend the headlines were all about Donegal annihilating Down in Ladies SFC. Where’s the context though? We just see the scoreline and what use is that? People read it, laugh or shake their heads, the notion that Ladies sports are rubbish is further embedded in many people’s minds, and they move on. There is no chance for the team on the end of the tanking to say – hang on, we were missing so many players for a variety of reasons, we are not that scoreline. No, they are not given the right of reply and there is no context given, and suddenly they are “that team.”

As bad as that is for adults to have to deal with, imagine how bad it must be for kids? Their peers read these sites, they go on twitter, they see these stories and do you think they will all act sympathetically? Of course not. There will be jibes thrown, sly digs given, and events like these can deeply affect young people. It’s hard enough to keep boys and girls at that age involved in any sport without extra pressures being heaped upon them as well. We need to encourage girls to play sport, not to give it up but who knows how players will react to something like this? Who knows how tough it will be for a manager or parent to cajole and convince a young girl who has been on a team beaten by a huge margin not to pack it in because suddenly she feels it’s not worth the hassle and it’s not worth the humiliation?

Sadly it’s a real possibility that players will drop off for these reasons and to lose even one player, especially at underage level, because of thoughtless cheap stories such as those we have seen recently, isn’t worth all the clicks in the world.

The offending tweet

In defence of Entourage!

I don’t normally do this. I probably don’t even need to do this, but I really feel I have to. I want to defend Entourage, the movie, following the splenetic rant by BBC film critic Mark Kermode in his review of the film on BBC 5Live.

Here is the review in all it’s rant filled, almost hateful, glory if you haven’t watched it yet.

First of all, let me say that Mr Kermode is obviously a far better qualified judge than I of feature films and the movie industry as a whole. But he does seem to suffer from the Alan Green/Mark Lawrenson perception of almost resenting the fact that he paid to watch and comment on something that most people would gladly do for free. I’m not really a fan of film critics at all, because unless it is an obscure Chilean motion picture filmed upside down in which everyone dies in the first four minutes and we are left with utter silence for the next nine hours, then most critics tend to look down their noses at what great numbers of cinema-goers enjoy.

My problem here is that M Kermode really never gives the film a chance. He admits to not having watched or being familiar with the – very successful – series on which the film is based. Fair enough, not everyone has time to do that, and it is clearly not a prerequisite for going to the movie. However, it has to be said that having watched the series you do build up a relationship with the characters. You follow their successes and failures and watch them learn and grow and with that knowledge and familiarity you are better equipped to appreciate the characters than perhaps someone who has no knowledge of the ups and downs of the characters we first met on HBO way back in 2004.

Mr Kermode also admits that after ten seconds of the screening that he told a colleague that he “hated” the film. Again, fair enough, first impressions, each to their own and all that but I find his reasonings hyperbolic and needlessly vicious.

He rails against the misogynistic tone of the film yet doesn’t touch on the fact that this film is set in Hollywood, a place that goes beyond parody in it’s representation and treatment of women (actresses) in real life. He is appalled by the fact that their is nothing bar the “1.1 dimensional” relationship between Ari Gold and his wife that represents women in a favourable light. Well let’s be clear, this film never set out to be perfect, it never set out to be anything other than escapism from the viewpoint of the central, fictional, characters. No one was waiting with bated breath for this film to solve all of the issues for women in the world, no one either was expecting it to be Battleship Potemkin. It’s escapism at the nth degree and that is why a certain section of the population love it. Mr Kermode demands it to be known that the lifestyle propagated in the film is not something that he believes “everyone” wants. Well of course it’s not – if everyone wanted the same thing all of the time the world would be a desperate place. But the point is, a large cross section of society, especially males of a certain age, would view this as the dream lifestyle, and where is the harm in that?

It is escapism as I have already said, and isn’t that what the motion picture industry is all about? Giving you a glimpse into a different life without having to leave the comfort of your seat, be the life of a solider in Iraq, a film projectionist in Giancaldo, Sicily, or a few guys from Queens living their dreams in Hollywood.

And also, despite Mr Kermode’s disgust at the treatment of women in Entourage, he need only review the TV series to see the performances of Perrey Reeves (Melissa Gold), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Sloan), Debi Mazar (Shauna), Cassidy Lehrman (Sarah), Carla Gugino (Amanda), Beverly D’Angelo (Babs) and Constance Zimmer (Dana) among a host of other great actresses who were integral to the success, longevity and sheer enjoyment of the show.

At the end of the day it comes down to personal choice and Mr Kermode decided immediately that he was not a fan of the film. However his need to so effusively criticise, to lambast, and hang out to dry a piece of pure escapism just reeks of self-regard and a conspicuous need for snobbishness. It might not be worthy to appear in the canon of Mr Kermode or other critics revered pictures but the rest of us will enjoy it for what it is if that’s ok.