‘I look forward to the time we discuss sport, not women’s sport’
Wexford camogie star Mags D’Arcy wants less talk, more action on equality for women
Former Irish rugby captain Fiona Coghlan; twice Olympic pentathlon athlete Natalya Coyle; camogie all-star Mags D’Arcy; and Olympic silver medallist Annalise Murphy launching Liberty Insurance Game of Two Halves research on Tuesday. Photograph: Naoise Culhane
At the conclusion of the 40-minute panel discussion hosted by RTÉ’s Joanne Cantwell and featuring Olympians Annalise Murphy and Natalya Coyle, Irish rugby Grand Slam winning captain Fiona Coghlan and four-time All-Ireland camogie winner Mags D’Arcy, you couldn’t but conclude that if the quartet got to run Irish sport for a spell, there’d be no need for any more #SupportHerSport conferences.
This was the third of them, hosted by Liberty Insurance at Croke Park, and D’Arcy expressed the wish that they’d soon enough become a quaint but distant memory.
“There’s only so much talking you can do. I just look forward to the time we discuss sport, and not ‘women’s sport’. It’s like with International Women’s Day – you really want it to be International Equality Day, no matter your race, religion or gender.”
For now, though, she says there’s work to be done, although the word “struggle” makes her bristle. “It’s not a struggle; we love what we do, there are things to be fixed, and with a bit of common sense it can be done.”
“But we’re out with the violin, we’re playing the same tune, we don’t have this, we don’t have that. I’m sick and tired of hearing it. I’m a consumer and if you play me the same advert every time, I’m not going to listen to what the message is.
“In camogie’s case, the talking can stop tomorrow because the solution is simple – we should come under the umbrella of the GAA and give everyone the same platform and opportunity. Enough is enough. You have people in offices who are not out on the field and coming in on a cold night with no showers, driving two hours afterwards having had nothing to eat.”
“And Wexford is one of the better counties. We’re well looked after; we get to use the same pitches, the same facilities. But it’s 2017, this year we’re celebrating 10 years since our first All-Ireland – if I’m here in another 10 years pleading as a player for us to be put under the one umbrella . . . ah, there’s something fundamentally wrong there. They’re not listening to players.”
For now, says D’Arcy, in the absence of structural changes, they’re dependent on goodwill. “An example: The men and the women in Wexford worked together in January to raise funds for our training for the year, expenses for matches, all that. Everything that was raised was split down the middle.
“That was Davy Fitz [Fitzgerald, the Wexford hurling manager], that was him saying ‘it’s half-and-half, the women are putting in half the work, so they’re going to get half the rewards’. That comes from the top down, that’s the culture.”
“But when people look in to our religion – because the GAA is a religion – and see its infrastructure, they say it’s like going to Mass. Women sitting on one side and men on the other, and no one crossing the aisle. You have brother and sister playing for the same club and mam and dad having to choose who they’re going to see – so why not put a structure in place where men and women play alongside each other, one game after another. It’s not rocket science.
While D’Arcy, Murphy, Coghlan and Coyle all come from very different sporting backgrounds, they share a passion for what they see as the immense value of participation in sport for young girls, with schoolteacher Coghlan stressing the role parents have to play in persuading their daughters of its value.
“At parent-teacher meetings, you would often hear, ‘oh she’s just not into sport’, and I’m like, ‘what have you tried?’ I just think parents are quick enough to get their boys involved in sport at a young age, but not so quick with their girls. Persist. If they drop out of something, there’s something else out there. We all have to work together on this because it is a problem, but I do think parents have a huge role to play.”
“There is a sport out there for everyone,” said Coyle, “you just need to keep looking. And you don’t need to be sporty, you just need to be active – and that’s about being healthy, mentally and physically.”
“And it’s about persuading girls that sport can be about fun,” said Murphy, “it can be about socialising, it doesn’t mean participating competitively. It’s just about doing a little bit and finding something you enjoy and making it so it’s part of your social life.”
On the issue of the lack of women in coaching positions, D’Arcy, even though it hurt as a Wexford native, saluted Kilkenny for their camogie All-Ireland success last year under the guidance of Ann Downey. At which point Coyle interjected to point out that D’Arcy had told her Wexford had joint managers – “two men doing the job of one woman”.
Cantwell promptly reintroduced D’Arcy to the audience as “the former Wexford goalkeeper”.