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Goldrick: I would love to see ladies fill Croke Park

Dublin’s Sinead Goldrick and Mayo’s Sarah Rowe put their rivalry aside. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Sinead Goldrick and Mayo’s Sarah Rowe put their rivalry aside. Photo: Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Sport is nothing if not a refuge for dreamers, and given the giant strides made in ladies football in recent years, the idea of drawing a capacity crowd to Croke Park no longer seems delusional.

Of course, such visions will only be realised on the far side of the summer, which for the sport's brightest stars feels an awful long way off ahead of this weekend's league openers.

All-Ireland champions Dublin kick off their campaign with a trip to Letterkenny on Sunday, where the attendance will be a fraction of the 46,286 who watched their All-Ireland triumph over Mayo last September.

And while that proved the perfect end to the year for a sport on the up, more good news arrived yesterday as Lidl announced its third year of substantial investment. In both 2016 and 2017 ladies football benefited to the tune of €1.5m and this year's figure is expected to match that, which has many dreaming of better days ahead.

"I would love to see us filling Croke Park with ladies football within the next few years," said Dublin's Sinéad Goldrick at yesterday's launch of the Lidl Ladies National Football League.

Goldrick has seen the effect increased exposure is having at grassroots since last year's triumph, and one of the keys to that was the documentary aired on RTÉ last November which charted Dublin's journey - 'Blues Sisters'.

"At work people were coming up saying they watched it or they wanted to get their daughter involved in sport as a result," she said.

"We made a risky decision doing it but the reason behind it was to promote the sport so we're delighted it came through. It gave the sport more recognition."

She hopes the momentum continues in 2018, and a deal struck by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) this month should ensure it keeps rolling.

The LGFA announced that eight of this year's ladies' league games will be played as double-headers with men's fixtures, which Cork's Orlagh Farmer believes will elevate interest.

"It's fantastic and about time really," she said. "It's great recognition for ladies football and a lot more are talking about it than a few years ago.

"The fact so many young girls would go to men's games with their parents and will also now see the ladies play is fantastic."

Cork open their campaign away to Kerry on Sunday as they chase a 10th league crown in 11 years, and they'll return to headquarters on February 10 to take on Dublin shortly before the men's clash between Donegal and Dublin.

With a bitter taste still lingering from Cork's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo last year, Farmer needs little incentive to get to work.

"Last year I was trying to see the positives of losing and it's that it drives you on and gives you purpose," she said. "It brings the team closer and you can work on your weaknesses."

After the success of last year's double-header experiment in the league, which saw the first ever ladies league game played at Croke Park before Mayo and Dublin squared off in the men's league, there were suggestions a similar strategy should be employed in the championship to boost the ladies' game. Perhaps even a double-header All-Ireland?

Mayo's Sarah Rowe, however, believes that's unnecessary and that the ladies game is now strong enough to prove a standalone attraction.

"I'd say not to have it for the All-Ireland but definitely for league games," she said.

"Having a double-header is a great idea but we had 46,000 at the (ladies) final so maybe we could fill the stadium in years to come."

Irish Independent

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