Joanne O’Riordan: Time for Camogie Association to pay heed to players’ wishes

Start to the new season embroiled in unnecessary controversy

Hilda Breslin: the president of the Camogie Association faced an early crisis over the controversial proposals on the season that have now been withdrawn. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Hilda Breslin: the president of the Camogie Association faced an early crisis over the controversial proposals on the season that have now been withdrawn. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

It was supposed to be a month of returns. Excitement was brewing as underage teams, intercounty teams, and many people gradually got back to sport outdoors. And yet it didn’t take long for a controversy to emerge in women’s sport.

This year, the Camogie Association Annual Congress was forward-thinking and proactive. With the dual player now being protected at all costs and acknowledged at policy level, the excitement was sky-high.

Hilda Breslin, the newly elected president of the Camogie Association, gave an interview to the Irish Examiner in which she explained her aim is to start a new Gaelic games family and how important it is in her three-year tenure to get a merger off the mark.

What she, along with others, did not see coming was the controversy over the May bank holiday weekend that sparked outrage, debate, and a clear split between those at the top and those at the grassroots level.

The association released a plan which said the season would deviate from the norm, with a scheduled sequence of intercounty league, club season, and intercounty championship. The norm (in the GAA and LGFA) was clearly set out as intercounty league, then intercounty championship followed by a club season.

The Camogie Association had put this motion to their players and their county boards. One county board supported a season that went intercounty league, club season and intercounty championship. The rest, along with 82 per cent of players, were not happy. Add to that, the threat of cancelling a minor championship at the county level was also put out there.

The GPA published the results of a poll in which the plan was firmly rejected by players. They want to give a full commitment to either their club or county, want their club colleagues to have “meaningful games” during the summer, and are concerned about implications of the demands of the football season for dual players.

A couple of things were incredibly striking throughout the weekend. Firstly, and probably least importantly, the announcement was released on the Friday of a bank holiday, late in the evening. Maybe I am too cynical, but it looked like this was a way to get the motion through without much of a fuss. Obviously, that backfired.

Secondly, and more importantly, it was evident from the start that the players and the county boards were not listened to, completely disrespected, and, despite being asked for an opinion, were clearly left behind.

Everybody seems to be taken aback by this. Everybody was confused did not know where this idea came from.

This was the first test for the newly formed Gaelic Players Association, which had just merged with their women counterparts over the Christmas holidays. People were expecting a strong statement, especially given how the GPA dedicated their week to promoting the fact that they were now one players’ organisation.

The GPA, along with the WGPA, put out a statement saying that out of the players surveyed over 24 hours during the bank holiday weekend, 84 per cent said they would not participate in the Littlewoods Leagues if the season was to go ahead as stated by the Camogie Association. The league is set to commence in under two weeks, on Saturday 15th May.

For now, the Camogie Association have withdrawn their plans and have stated that they will put proposals to their members to get their feedback and see where this season could possibly go. Make of that what you will.

But there is something that should be learned here. Firstly, the players have a voice. The push-back the Camogie Association received over the weekend was a primary factor in getting them to reconsider this decision.

That is something that should not be overlooked and that individual players should be proud of. Their voice and outrage created change.

Secondly, given the new and bright spotlight, we see some incredible cracks in organisations where, given funding and other systemic issues, they have only been able to put a plaster over them and hope they go away.

Some of them and some of their members are incredibly resilient when it comes to solutions. It should not be the case anymore. Some of these are simple basics.

Nobody should go to town on the Camogie Association. They messed up. They owned up to it, and they’re hopefully going to go back to their members and do the right thing.

But, there should be a lesson. This should be a turning point. They should force some of these organisations to look at their overall picture, see where things are going wrong and recalculate for future plans and decisions.

Women’s sports shouldn’t always be about the controversies or the ridiculous dramas slowly unfolding. We are exactly one year on from the 20 x 20 campaign; the stories shouldn’t be about controversies. It should be about the incredible achievements, accolades and pride these women bring to our country and communities.

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