Thursday 20 June 2019

O'Connor: If you're doing your job, athletes don't care if you're male or female

Cliódhna O'Connor. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Cliódhna O'Connor. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

As Cliodhna O'Connor points out, unless the Dublin hurlers are playing Wexford, there's a good chance that she'll be the only female involved in either of the extended backroom teams.

Along with Mags D'Arcy, who works as a coach with Davy Fitzgerald's Slaneysiders, O'Connor is a woman working in a man's world, operating as the Dubs' athletic development coach.

There are a few second glances when she lands in with Mattie Kenny's squad but in her experience gender is left at the door if athletes believe you can help them improve.

"Most of my coaching is with males, and most of my team sport coaching had been with males," she says.

"It's just what I started doing, and therefore I never really thought about it too much. People say, 'Oh is it strange,' but maybe if I stopped to think about it, you do notice people do take a double take… like, 'Oh God, there's a lady with a whistle'.

"Which is fine, and I suppose if it's not the norm and you think people pay more attention because you are slightly out of the norm then maybe it puts a bit of pressure on you in that 'all this better bloody be good now.'

"You don't want to give any excuse for people to say you are not good at the job, but the way I look at it is athletes are very picky people and very demanding and very ambitious, as are managers etc.

"And if you are not delivering what you should be delivering, you won't last very long and you'll be found out very quickly. So if you are doing your job and your athletes are getting fitter and able to play the game, then they are not really going to care if you are male or female."

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O'Connor has worked across a variety of sports including squash players, athletes and equestrian sports.

The demands of an individual athlete versus a team sport are quite different. And with the Dublin hurlers, her biggest challenge is making the best use of time as possible.

"My job is to be as efficient as possible with their training time. So if you've got two players who need different things to be a better hurler, and I have them in the gym for the same hour doing the exact same thing, then I'm not doing my job very well.

"They have to be chasing their own limiting factor all the time really."

In a previous life, O'Connor was the Dublin ladies football team's first-choice goalkeeper.

An All-Ireland winner with the Jackies in 2010, she has seen plenty of change in terms of how women in sport and women's sports teams are viewed.

And she believes the day could soon come when a men's county team could be managed by a woman.

"I don't see why not, I don't see why not," she replies. "I also think, to be honest with you, the male/female dynamic can work really well. Some people say, 'Oh, is it hard for a female to go into that environment, and all of that?'

"But I think sometimes that slightly different gender balance works exceptionally well with men. I do not see why not, I think it will take more time for more female coaches to be in the men's game.

"We're even saying it with the women's game, we need more female coaches, and I think there's a lot in that from a grassroots level and there's a lot in it from people maybe not...

"I think everyone needs to drop any presumptions they have about gender-specific roles."

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