Jenny Rispin going above and beyond for ladies football in Meath
THIS time last year, when Meath ladies’ football was in crisis, Jenny Rispin could have ducked a big decision but didn’t.
Royals’ manager Diane O’Hora quit after their Leinster championship exit, alleging a lack of support and cohesion from the county board for her team and players.
Rispin, who’d been sidelined for seven months with a knee injury, was sitting at home when the phone rang.
The county chairwoman asked her if she’d step into the breach and the Summerhill star, who works fulltime in Games Development for the Meath men’s board and had successfully coached their girls’ U16s, was faced with a quandary.
The Royals had just lost a Leinster semi-final to Westmeath and the Qualifier draw had not been kind, lining them up to meet the losers of Cork/Kerry.
You’d be hard pressed to find a chalice more poisoned but the Meath veteran (29) put her hand out and accepted it.
Now she is back among the foot soldiers, playing in the full-forward line alongside players she was still managing at the start of this year until Kilkenny native Eoin Morrissey took over.
Meath face Westmeath in a huge Qualifier derby next weekend and Rispin is back leading on the field now, not along the side-lines.
“It was a challenge alright,” she says of plugging their managerial gap.
“I’d trained a lot of the girls when they were U14, U16 and minor but the panel was dwindling so I had to quickly get a few more players in. I got on the phone straight away and started ringing around.”
Some of Meath’s problems were not unique.
“There were girls falling away throughout the year. People had gone travelling, or moved for work or were doing exams or whatever, there was a lot of reasons,” Rispin says.
Losing inter-county players to travel or work seems an ongoing problem in the women’s game and one she struggles to understand.
“Maybe there’s not enough of a carrot to keep players here but it’s something I’m still trying to get my head around,” she admits.
“I’m from the generation where you stuck around because you wanted to play football so much for your county that you’d put everything else aside.
“We sat down a few times last year and asked why aren’t we getting girls in? You definitely need basics, like a professional set-up and a good training base, players want to be treated professionally.”
But she’s not afraid to stress that it has to be a two-way street.
“It’s partly about the structures and promotion of the game, but a lot of people have to take responsibility for it, including players themselves. They have to give that same respect and commitment back.”
Rispin’s candour also runs to admitting that she managed Meath with half an eye to playing again.
“I wanted to leave the door open for myself with the girls, I didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers,” she admits. “I probably would have done it differently if I thought I wasn’t going back as a player.”
They face another big challenge now as Westmeath racked up five goals against them in Leinster’s group games and she now appreciate the view either side of the white lines
“I do have a lot of sympathy for managers now,” she says.
“There’s a lot more to it than just turning up for a training session, a whole lot more ! Apart from all the gear in the hall you’d be on the phone 24/7, ringing and texting girls, stressing about training and teams. Just ask my housemates!”
*Jenny Rispin features in the WGPA’s ‘Be You -Belong’ campaign. For more see www.wgpa.ie