Camogie's quiet revolution seeks closer ties with football and a sport of equals
Revolution is in the air with the centenary of the Easter Rising almost upon us and a Dáil that resembles no previous parliament. In Croke Park today, the Camogie Association will unveil its vision for the future of the sport, and, in its own way, it is quietly revolutionary.
'Our Sport, Our Future' is the title given to the four-year plan the Association will launch before the All-Ireland club finals, and one of the main targets is to develop closer integration between the Camogie Association, the Ladies' Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) and the GAA under the Aontas programme.
"Ultimately we want to work as closely as possible with the GAA and the LGFA on what is achievable for our sports," said Catherine Neary, president of the Camogie Association. "We want to start on a practical base, and on the administration side of things one of our first priorities is developing the One Club Model and sustaining and firming that up. We don't have club constitutions in camogie, so our target for 2017 is to work with the LGFA and GAA on adopting constitutions for standalone and integrated clubs."
Unlike the political manifestos which have dominated public discourse for months now, the Camogie Association has taken action to ensure that this promise is one that is fulfilled. "There is a joint facilitator who will oversee what happens," Neary added. "We have a plan and we want to take action on it, otherwise there is no point in having prepared this plan. It is about all of us coming together and working together on what is best for our sport."
By 2019, the Association aims to have set up shared structures with the GAA which help promote both camogie and hurling while maintaining the separate codes that govern both games.
The sponsorship of the camogie and hurling All-Ireland championships by Liberty Insurance and the backing of AIB for the men's and women's club finals are two examples of how commercial partnerships between the men's and women's games can be achieved and how camogie can be promoted.
Aontas forms just one of the four strategic areas of this plan, which has taken over a year to formulate. The other courses of action the Association wants to take include on-pitch initiatives, promotion of the sport in the media and improving the administration and commercial aspects of camogie.
Neary hopes that the plan, which will be put into action immediately, can promote a bright future for camogie. "Our goal is that in four years' time we will have increased the number of players, improved camogie's profile in the media, (with) more people attending games and new people in the sport," she said.
Player welfare initiatives and increasing the number of girls and women playing camogie form the main thrust of this four-year plan. The association aims to improve player retention, coaching and the training of referees. The drop-off rates for girls participating in sport are higher than for men, and it is an issue of which the president is acutely aware.
"The public view of women involved in sport is different to how they see men, and we want to help change that," Neary said. "Through the strategic plan we will have a panel of former and current players to speak to the media and public about camogie and role models both for players and to encourage girls to take up the sport to help them develop."
Encouraging players to move into coaching and administration is a key aim of the plan and would help keep women in the game after they put away their boots. Improving the technical knowledge and abilities of players and developing the sport outside the top tier of counties are major elements of this four-year strategy.
"We have three tiers for our counties as we know there cannot be an approach of one-size-fits-all," Neary said. "We will work on what suits each county and focus on that. Tailoring what works in Cork won't work in Louth, and our vision is to help the Louths of this world up to the level of the Corks."
As proclamations go, this is as revolutionary as it can get, creating a sporting world of equals in camogie. The first signs of that revolution are stirring this afternoon in Croke Park with the ambition of changing the very face of the sport.
"This is a very exciting time for everyone involved in camogie," said Neary. "The plan is to leave a mark on the sport so that in ten years' time we can see that we have created the right foundations to move the game forward and develop camogie."
Sunday Indo Sport