Double-headers can help open doors in women’s football

Lidl National League gets a promotional push but Páirc Uí Chaoimh remains closed to women

Róisín Friel of Donegal, Orlagh Farmer of Cork, Sarah Rowe of Mayo, and Sinead Goldrick of Dublin, at the launch of Lidl’s next phase of sponsorship with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

From this day forth, customers of Lidl in Donegal Town might well find themselves being prodded by the store manager in to stocking up in six-packs of Carrick Glen Active Spring Water on every visit, now that 10 cents from each sale goes towards funding jerseys and equipment for women’s club teams.

Even before the latest initiative from Lidl, now in the third year of their partnership with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA), Róisín Friel made good use of her position to indulge in a little proselytising with customers who stopped for a chat about football, encouraging them to go along and support the women’s county team, and not just the men’s.

“It would annoy you when you’d hear people saying they’re taking the kids up to watch the men, but they wouldn’t go to the ladies’ games,” she said. “And they think that’s supporting the county. Getting women behind us is an especially big thing. You don’t see it often, they’re more inclined to go and support men, but it has been changing over the last couple of years. And getting younger girls going to games is key, if it becomes a natural thing at that age you just continue it on.”

If they don’t spot her in-store, the customers couldn’t miss Friel outside where the Donegal forward appears on posters and billboards, all part of Lidl’s campaign to promote the women’s game.


Promotional push

At their headquarters in Tallaght on Wednesday they launched the 2018 National Football Leagues, which get under way on Sunday, “Serious Starts Here” the tag given to their latest promotional push. Aside from the spring water donations, local clubs nominated by customers in each store or on their Facebook page will be also be provided with jerseys and equipment.

The challenge now for the women’s game is to build on the promise of last year, the highlight that record attendance of 46,286 at the All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo. The general consensus among the players present at the launch is that the string of double-headers announced by the LGFA earlier this month give the game its best promotional chance yet.

The challenge now for the women’s game is to build on the promise of last year, the highlight being the record attendance of 46,286 at the All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

“I think they’re going to help massively,” said Mayo’s Sarah Rowe, her county scheduled to play two double-headers, both preceding men’s Allianz League game between the same counties – the first is against Galway in Salthill on February 11th, the second a repeat of September’s All-Ireland final when they host Dublin in Castlebar on February 24th.

All-Ireland champions Dublin will play twice at Croke Park in “curtain-raisers” for men’s games, against Cork on February 10th and Kerry on March 3rd, while Monaghan meet Kerry in Inniskeen on February 11th. Division Two’s Armagh, Cavan and Tyrone will also be involved in double-headers.

“If people go to them they’ll see that the ladies’ games are actually good to watch, so they might start going to our games even when they’re not double-headers,” said Rowe. “The standard has improved an awful lot in the last few years, there’s a much higher skill level, in general the teams seem to be a lot fitter, so things are definitely improving.”


There’s no sign yet, though, of Cork getting a chance to play in the newly renovated Páirc Uí Chaoimh, a bugbear for some time among supporters of the team. “I never played there, I trained there maybe twice,” said Orlagh Farmer, the possessor of seven league medals with the county. Back in December Cork county board senior administrator Diarmuid O’Donovan conceded that “this is an issue which isn’t going to go away” and said he was hopeful that the women’s team would get to play at the ground at some point. But for now the only double-headers scheduled for the stadium are men’s football and hurling games. Tracey Kennedy, elected as the first female chair of Cork GAA in November, said that she would “work to the best of my ability” to make it happen.

Cork were dethroned as All-Ireland champions last season, losing to Mayo in the semi-finals having won the title for the previous six years, but they are still the county to beat in the National League. When they edged Donegal by a point in the final at Parnell Park last May, they completed a five-in-a-row in the competition and made it 11 victories out of the last 13, only Mayo in 2007 and Monaghan in 2012 interrupting their streak.

Dublin, Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Kerry, Monaghan and newcomers Westmeath complete the Division One line-up, with Cork meeting Kerry in their opening fixture, Donegal hosting Dublin in Letterkenny, Galway at home to Monaghan and Mayo taking on Westmeath in Swinford.

For the day that was in it, the players were asked which team-mate they would nominate to do a “Trolley Dash” around their local Lidl to stock up for the team. “I think I’d nominate Sinead Finnegan . . . because she’d go to the drinks aisle,” said Dublin’s Sinead Goldrick, which earned loud laughter. At which point she switched to Dr Noelle Healy “because she’d know which food is good for nutrition”. Farmer opted for Áine Terry O’Sullivan “because she’s a scream and she’d surprise you, you’d never know what she’d put in a trolley”.

Friel? “I’d have a bit of an advantage, I think,” she laughed. And she’d most probably load it up with six-packs of Carrick Glen Active Spring Water.

Lidl National Football League Fixtures

Round One – Sunday, January 28th: Galway v Monaghan, Mayo v Westmeath, Kerry v Cork, Donegal v Dublin

Round Two – Sunday, February 4th: Westmeath v Dublin, Kerry v Mayo, Cork v Monaghan, Donegal v Galway

Round Three – Sunday, February 11th: Dublin v Cork, Galway v Mayo, Monaghan v Kerry, Westmeath v Donegal

Round Four – Sunday, February 25rd: Mayo v Dublin, Monaghan v Donegal, Cork v Westmeath, Kerry v Galway

Round Five – Sunday, March 4th: Dublin v Kerry, Westmeath v Galway, Donegal v Cork, Mayo v Monaghan

Round Six – Sunday, March 25nd: Monaghan v Westmeath, Cork v Mayo, Dublin v Galway, Donegal v Kerry

Round Seven – Sunday, April 1st: Kerry v Westmeath, Mayo v Donegal, Monaghan v Dublin, Galway v Cork.

Semi-finals – April 21st and 22nd.

Final– May 6th.

Double-Headers (each preceding a men’s National League game)

Sunday, January 28nd – Armagh v Tipperary (Division Two), Athletic Grounds, Armagh, 12.0 - before Armagh v Sligo.

Saturday, February 3rd – Cavan v Armagh (Division Two), Kingspan Breffni, Cavan, 5.15 - before Cavan v Louth.

Saturday, February 10th – Dublin v Cork (Division One), Croke Park, 5.0 - before Dublin v Donegal.

Sunday, February 11th – Monaghan v Kerry (Division One), Páirc Grattan, Inniskeen, 12.0 - before Monaghan v Kerry.

Sunday, February 11th – Galway v Mayo (Division One), Pearse Stadium, Salthill, 12.0 - before Galway v Mayo.

Saturday, February 24th – Mayo v Dublin (Division One), MacHale Park, Castlebar, 5.0 - before Mayo v Dublin

Saturday, March 3rd – Dublin v Kerry (Division One), Croke Park, 5.0 - before Dublin v Kerry.

Saturday, March 3rd – Tyrone v Cavan (Division Two), Healy Park, Omagh, 5.15 - before Tyrone v Donegal.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times