Sunday 19 January 2020

'If you're a good coach it doesn't matter whether you're a woman'

Dubs U-21 selector Eimear Dignam hoping for more to follow in her footsteps after smashing glass ceiling

Dubs U-21 selector Eimear Dignam
Dubs U-21 selector Eimear Dignam
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Management is dominated by men, that just seems the way of the sporting world, but Eimear Dignam continues to buck the trend: she has been an ever-present on the sideline with Dublin hurling teams since the turn of the Millennium.

She's been at the coalface for so long through her coaching work with Dublin GAA and shaped so many current seniors, including the likes of senior stars David Treacy, Peter Kelly and Óisín Gough, that she doesn't even appreciate just how unique her situation actually is.

Anyone watching the progress of Dublin's U-21 hurlers this year can attest to her influence but to the St Vincent's woman, she's just a volunteer doing the same job as a male. Gender is irrelevant, she's just good at what she does.

It's only when talking to her past pupils that she realises the vital cog she has been in the capital's hurling revolution and her accomplishment of shattering the glass ceiling by showing women that they can thrive in a male-dominated environment.

"I don't dwell on it because it's just what I do and it's who I am. I'm sure a lot of women who are in sport don't think of themselves as women in sport. They just see themselves as sportspeople and I just see myself as a coach/selector," says Dignam (pictured).

"When I'm dealing with the players it doesn't cross my mind and I know it doesn't cross theirs either. Peter Kelly said to me, 'you've sort of forged the way a little bit into a high level of sport that other females aren't in so it's nothing to hide from'.

"It makes no difference to the lads. One of them maintained that the gender balance in the dressing-room helps a little bit, and from a coaching perspective I would bring just as much as a male would.

"You do have to stand your ground and be confident in your abilities, which I am, and I'm confident in the respect that the players have for me; as long as I have the players' respect then I'm happy enough."

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Steeped in sport and the GAA - her uncle Pat Canavan won All-Ireland football honours with the Dubs in 1983, while her father Dermot organised the An Post Rás for years - she was immersed in sport from an early age.

Coaching was a natural progression once her dual playing career ended and she hasn't taken a backward step since, with successful stints with the Dublin minors, winning Leinster in 2007, DIT and now the U-21s.

There has never been any aggro during her coaching years and she doesn't get as many "funny looks" as she used to but the fact that more women are not following her lead does surprise her.

The emergence of the likes of Maggie Farrelly, who progressed onto the senior inter-county referees' circuit this year, delights her but she believes "if she's a good referee, she's a good referee, she's not a good female referee".

Joe Fortune, Dwain Moore and Dignam have spent the best part of 15 years as a management team and this evening the Three Musketeers will patrol the line in Thurles as the Dubs look to book their All-Ireland U-21 final place.

The lure of being manager never attracted her because "people will look for a reason for failure, so obviously if a season goes wrong it's because there's a female as bainisteoir".

Besides that, all three have equal say in things and the trio are constantly on the phone to each other as they strive to get the maximum out of another exciting crop of young Dubs.

As well as overseeing over 30 clubs in Dublin north in her job, Dignam is in schools keeping an eye that proper standards are adhered to, while she also has the enviable role of looking after the hectic diary of Sam Maguire.

Reaching the promised land and claiming All-Ireland U-21 honours would help hurling to explode in Dublin and make her day job even more enjoyable.

"We're very proud of the hurlers that we feel we've produced. It would be a huge testament to all the work we've put in," she says.

"Despite all of the success and progress there hasn't been an All-Ireland, and for any Dublin team to win an All-Ireland would be massive because the growth of hurling has been huge already."

Irish Independent

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