Thursday 21 September 2017

Geary aiming to raise profile of women's sport

Camogie legend Anna Geary is keen to shake up media coverage, writes Claire McCormack

Anna Geary: 'Media can't just cover women's sports, they need a reason to cover it.' Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Anna Geary: 'Media can't just cover women's sports, they need a reason to cover it.' Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Claire McCormack

She may have hung up her county camogie boots, but Anna Geary's commitment to raising the profile of the game means her career in sport is far from over.

Last month, the four-time camogie All-Star and All-Ireland winner announced her shock retirement from the Cork team at the tender age of 27.

The distinguished defender, who captained Cork to the All-Ireland title last September, said it was an "immensely difficult" and "very private" decision.

But, after an illustrious 12-year career spent building her life around camogie - jobs, holidays, college, social life, family life - the Milford clubwoman said her priorities have changed.

"I was very conscious of the fact that every time I put on the Cork jersey I was taking someone else's chance," she says. "I had a responsibility to give it the absolute best of myself.

"But it's very difficult to make a career move or change career path if you have to adhere to a structure of always leaving bang on time and not being available at the weekend.

"With me, it's all or nothing. I felt that as a senior player I couldn't preach to the younger players about the importance of commitment if I was missing training due to work."

But now it's clear that the GAA is still ultimately at the heart of her resolve. She wants to help reshape the media's understanding of camogie and women's football so younger generations know to "expect more". She plans to achieve this goal through a career in radio, television and public relations.

"Media coverage is the biggest challenge facing women in the GAA today. We can't look beyond that," she said. Although she thinks "serious momentum" is building around women in sport, she believes more "immediate improvements" are needed.

These include: increasing levels of reporting, the removal of lingering stigmas, promoting nationwide sponsorship of women in sport and more initiative from high-profile ladies' players.

"A lot of people would say the level of coverage is proportionate to the level of interest. But how can we ever increase interest if we're still only getting the same amount of inches and columns in the newspaper?" she said.

At the same time, she believes women's players are also contributing to the issue.

"We have to get realistic - the media needs an angle. They can't just cover women's sports, they need a reason to cover it so they need our stories, the angles and the juicy bits," said Geary adding: "That doesn't mean anything negative.

"Players need to take responsibility. They need to expect more of themselves and be more willing to tell their stories.

"If the media and players work their way forward together that is the best way for women to progress." But the new panellist on RTé Radio 1's latest GAA championship programme, The Marty Squad, stressed that emphasis must always be placed on a player's talent, not on appearance.

"I wear fake tan but I wear it for myself, for my own confidence. I don't wear it for anyone else or because I wonder what people think about my legs," she said.

"Some women choose not to engage in any make-up regimes before a game, others do because it's their routine and it relaxes them but you shouldn't be stigmatised whether you do or you don't. None of that matters."

Last week, a new study supported by Liberty Insurance uncovered recommendations for getting more women involved in sport in Ireland.

The Wise Up report, launched by well-known British TV sports presenter Clare Balding, revealed that attending matches as a child "normalises a sporting habit".

However, the findings revealed that just four in 10 women are likely to have been brought to fixtures as children, compared to six in 10 men.

The insurance group is now calling on parents and families to be more pro-active about bringing their daughters, nieces and granddaughters to sporting fixtures.

"Liberty Insurance are leading the way in supporting men and women on an equal platform, giving equal recognition," said Geary, who urges the promotion of similar campaigns to stem the gender gap in sponsorship.

"It's not about beating a drum for women, it's about saying there is change happening, be involved and make a contribution to it and turn the message into a positive."

Although she will never again line out for the Rebels, she is still playing with her club and defending their county titles.

When asked what she is going to miss most about playing for Cork, she instantly highlights the "irreplaceable camaraderie" with her team-mates and the "adrenaline rush" of playing at the highest level.

Quoting retired Cork hurler Dónal óg Cusack, she said: "No sex, no drugs, no anything else will replace that feeling of walking out in Croke Park - that scared excitement, nothing will replicate it."

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