Mary Hannigan: Future of women’s Gaelic football is bright

Phenomenal attendance of 46,286 marks a massive breakthrough for women’s game

 The attendance of 46,286 is shown during the TG4 Ladies  All-Ireland senior football final between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park.  Photograph:  Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The attendance of 46,286 is shown during the TG4 Ladies All-Ireland senior football final between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

 

All-Ireland finals day and it was ‘do not adjust your set’ time, TG4’s Gráinne McElwain reminding us that there was no “Corcaigh anseo”, making the occasion feel decidedly strange.

There are young girls out there who thought it was in the rules that the women’s senior All-Ireland final must always be between Cork and somebody, their 11 titles in the last 12 years strengthening the case for the county to be split in at least three.

But this year’s championship freshener-upper gave us a Dublin-Mayo pairing, a pairing that might have rung a bell – for those who missed it, the curtain-raiser between the counties took place at Croke Park the week before.

And for the main event, who should turn up at TG4’s on-pitch breakfast bar only Dean Rock, he who decided said curtain-raiser with that late, late free.

“Ah, I was just thankful it went over the bar,” he said when Gráinne asked him to talk us through the moment, Rock dismissing distractions like flying GPSs, despite flying GPSs not being something you come across every day.

The chances of, say, Sinead Aherne or Cora Staunton being distracted by airborne GPSs as they prepared to take their frees were, of course, considerably smaller, largely because there’s not yet enough investment in the women’s game to purchase them, never mind throw them away. But maybe that’s about to change.

We’re more used to Daithí Ó Sé MC’ing Lovely Ladies’ competitions down Tralee way, but when he took to the pitch at half-time to inform the crowd of the attendance at the final, women’s Gaelic football came up smelling of, well, Roses.

46,286.

Repeat:

46,286.

Phenomenal.

The context-setters got to work.

The year’s top attendances at women’s sports events in Europe: The rugby World Cup final? 17,115. The Champions League final? 22,433. Football’s European Championship final? 28,182. The English FA Cup final? 35,271 (between teams from Manchester and Birmingham with a combined population of over six million). And top of the pile, Dublin v Mayo, Croke Park.

Hashtag Seriously Serious Support.

Unless they can extend Croke Park’s capacity to 130,000ish by next September, let that be an end to the double-header talk.

While Dublin’s winning tally of 4-11 was the figure that determined who will look after the Brendan Martin Cup until Cork are ready to take it home again next year, that 46,286 was the number of the day.

Huge consequences

When demands for increased coverage of women’s sport were habitually countered with arguments about meagre attendances, arguments that weren’t entirely unreasonable, it was up to the respective sporting bodies to show a little imagination and energy to promote what they had to offer. The crew behind women’s Gaelic football, then, deserve a standing ovation.

A crowd closing in on 50,000 for this year’s final is simply fantastic. One swallow, as we’re oft informed, does not a summer make, the challenge is to maintain that level of support, but if it can be done then it should have huge consequences for women’s sport in Ireland. Not just in terms of coverage, but with sponsorship too. Figures like that will make ’em drool. They might well be flinging away GPSs soon.

What the 46,286 saw on Sunday, along with TG4’s visitors for the afternoon, was a first half bordering on the epic, and a second that petered out, Mayo’s wides mounting even more steadily than Dublin’s goal count.

At the full-time hooter cockles and mussels filled the air, if the county of Mayo never hears the Molly Molone tune again it’ll still be a day too soon.

Camera on Cora.

Before the game, Gráinne had asked her if she believed in fairytales, in light of the fact that this might be her last game for Mayo.

“Not at all,” she smiled, she only believed in taking your chances.

Which Dublin did.

“We love playing football, we love playing with each other, we love playing for Dublin,” player of the match Noelle Healy said to TG4 after the game. “We love coming to Croke Park and seeing all the young girls coming out, it’s where we all came to see our heroes too.”

And 46,286 of them turned up to see their heroes this time around, giving the stadium that very lovely high-pitched din that you only ever get on, well, Lovely Ladies’ Day. It’s always best to be cautious, but it’s hard not to look at the future of women’s Gaelic football through rose-tinted glasses after that.

A quite brilliant day.

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