Wednesday 21 March 2018

Comment - And you wonder: how do the female members of Ballyragget GAA club feel after that?

Ballyragget, County Kilkenny where the local intermediate hurling team won the county final last weekend
Ballyragget, County Kilkenny where the local intermediate hurling team won the county final last weekend
'Ireland’s bizarre attitude to alcohol surely contributed to this incident but doesn’t in any way excuse it.' Stock Image
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

In this job you need a thick skin and a sense of humour and fairness.

If you're going to analyse and sometimes criticise others you've got to be prepared to take it back as well.

I knocked on the door to the press box in Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon once to gain entry to cover a Connacht SFC match and the man who opened asked 'are you here to sing the National Anthem?'

He looked a bit sheepish when he realised I was waving a 'national' GAA press pass. It was such an unexpected and inconsequential bit of sexism - and also from a volunteer - that I just laughed and moved on without comment, but it surprised me for two reasons.

First, was its timing. This happened in the past 10 years. Back when I started as a sportswriter in 1990 I was a rare woman in the national GAA press pack but not any longer.

There are women working at every level in the sport's media now, and also in Croke Park's press office, so how, in the noughties, could he think I was only there to entertain him?

It also threw me because, when I started sports writing, I found the GAA the least sexist of any team sport I covered.

I encountered relatively little sexism because so many women were already involved in GAA clubs, volunteering as coaches and administrators.

Nearly 30 years later some of them have risen to become major power-brokers in inter-county boardrooms.

The fact that camogie and ladies football are run by separate organisations explains but doesn't excuse why female players and their administrators still face continuing inequities.

They're still stymied by clashing fixtures and having to pay to train at inter-county 'centres of excellence' and even a team of the Cork ladies footballers' stature have still never played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

But at club level, women are largely given due respect in the GAA and that continues to improve.

You see the collegiality now between the GPA and WGPA and a row of Dublin men's footballers proudly shouting on their female counterparts in the All-Ireland final and think 'Brilliant! This new generation thinks completely differently. They view women as equals and the possibilities are endless.'

Then you hear that a number of members of a club team in Kilkenny, just days after winning a county intermediate title, were at a birthday party for a teammate where strippers were present.

And you wonder: how do the female members of Ballyragget GAA club feel after that?

In 2017 women in the GAA hope and believe that such knuckle-dragging is few and far between.

Ireland's bizarre attitude to alcohol - this widespread notion that we cannot have a good time without getting bladdered - surely contributed to this incident but doesn't in any way excuse it.

Ten years ago Cavan GAA suggested that we should drill holes in trophies to stop them being used as beer vats.

It was laughed off the park but who's laughing in St Patrick's Ballyragget today?

Not many of its female members, I'll warrant.

Not their many male club-mates either who respect women, nor their executive or sponsors, especially the people who bust their butts to get said sponsors.

And not, you suspect, some of the men who, most likely through an alcoholic haze, got themselves involved in something that is the antithesis of how they would like men to view and treat their sisters, daughters, mothers, female friends and partners.

It'll be blamed on a combination of 'the drink' and 'locker-room banter' of course and I'll be told I'm a prude.

I confess I also sniggered initially at the pure idiocy of this until I heard the details and thought seriously about the juxtaposition of GAA players celebrating victory with a business which trades and preys, largely, on impoverished and vulnerable women.

It wasn't funny, it was utterly depressing and what subliminal message did it give to the women in their lives, especially those who also play Gaelic games?

Irish Independent

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