Grant helping women's games out of dark ages
Aoife Lane says ladies' football and camogie are making the most of government funding
It's hard to put an exact price on the difference between being also-rans or champions in inter-county football or hurling. But you can be pretty sure it's a lot more than €8,500.
That, in fact, is a paltry amount in the greater scheme of things, yet that is what was paid to every camogie and ladies' football county team last year by way of a government grant - and it says it all that they were damn glad to get it.
"It is a landmark development for both ladies' football and camogie," says Aoife Lane, chairperson of the Women's GPA about the government grant scheme which is now in its second year. The initial agreement was for €1m over two years, to be divided equally between every county team - which came to roughly €8,500 per team - and later this year the WGPA, LGFA and Camogie Association will sit down with the two sports ministers and look to negotiate a new deal. "It can't go away now," says Lane of the scheme, "from an equality standpoint if nothing else. It needs to improve and hopefully we'll be able to show the value of it."
She adds: "It's all back to the principle of respecting these players as elite athletes. We keep saying it, these are our best role models, people know them, they're from small towns, they're local, they're visible, they're like me and you, and for me that's the only way role models work."
It shows how far ladies' football and camogie have lagged behind their male counterparts when a grant of this amount can make such a difference.
The scheme is administered by the WGPA, the LGFA and Camogie Association, all working together and everything is vouched and signed off by the team manager, a player and a county board official.
"We're stronger together," says Lane of the three associations joining forces. "If we're all working together to improve the experience of the players, then of course the players are going to benefit. It's a no-brainer for me."
The money comes with stipulations - it can only be used in three areas, namely injury prevention, performance analysis and facilities. The WGPA received strong feedback from players from the start that they only wanted the money used to enhance their team. They were adamant they did not want individual payments so most players still don't receive expenses for being out of pocket representing their county. That's probably still a long way down the road. Still, each step forward is at least that - no matter how small.
"What's the budget for a county ladies' football team or camogie team?" asks Lane. "You're probably talking €50,000 to €80,000. And then maybe Dublin, who are beyond that. So if it [the grant] is a tenth, a fifth, a quarter of an overall budget, it's still an addition. The principle of it is that it doesn't displace money, it adds. That's hammered home all the time. So if you were spending €40,000, you're now spending €48,000.
"It's lifeblood for smaller counties, but even for the likes of Dublin and Cork it makes a difference. It means they can add something extra to their preparation. It's lifeblood for some, marginal gains for others."
One of the big bugbears for ladies' football and camogie is access to facilities to train and play and it is a regular feature of both codes that players will only find out at the last minute where their training session is being held, or even where a game is being played. Stories are commonplace of games and training sessions for county teams at all ages being moved at the last minute to make way for their male counterparts. This sends a clear message to these players that they are not respected by elements within the GAA family. It says that their status as inter-county players is something that's beneath that of the men, and it is an issue that needs to be tackled at national level.
This year, the portion of the grant you are allowed to spend on hiring facilities will be capped, because otherwise it will eat into other gains. But even a spend of around €1,500 would typically give access to a pitch with floodlights for 15 nights. As crazy as it might sound, this is something some teams might not have had frequent access to because the biggest barrier of all was money.
Of the three areas where the money is allocated, there is a broad consensus that performance has been the most critical. "This would be performance analysis, strength and conditioning, all that kind of stuff," says Lane.
"That's worked really well. They have to be approved professionals, so it's not your cowboy off the street, it's somebody with proper qualifications in these areas. So that's really good. One of the things that we are doing that will stand to us in time is that there's standards here. It's not dumbing the whole thing down and putting players at risk, and county boards at risk, by having people who don't know what they're doing."
The three associations have invested a lot of time analysing how the first year of the scheme played out in each county. Lane says she expects to see examples where it all worked really well, but also instances where it didn't.
"There's still a long journey and there are examples of counties in this who are still struggling, basically saying we didn't see much of a difference. And then you see really positive stories - like Fermanagh junior footballers and Westmeath junior camogie players would both say they wouldn't have won All-Irelands without this money because it gave them access to things they never had. It raised the bar for them."
Counties gathered for a workshop in Croke Park last week to share their good and bad experiences and to begin the process of applying for this year's grant, which is expected to be closer to €9,000 because they are managing the costs of administering it a little more efficiently second time round.
"I think the basic principle around how this is working is really important for women's sport, for women's Gaelic games," says Lane. "Having everyone around the table wanting the same thing instead of pulling in different directions.
"We've established a template for working together. I'm sure there's lots of other ways too we could do it. While we disagree sometimes on how we might get there, none of us disagree on the importance of the player and of the county game in terms of what it attracts.
"I think a big thing going forward will be integration, and it will be the relationship with the bigger organisation - the GAA, who own everything. I think there's interest there. I think at club level there's a natural affinity for it."
And so it goes. One step at a time.
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