Marie Crowe: Times are changing as players' effort is reflected in respect
Monaghan's Caoimhe Mohan epitomises the progress in ladies' football
Speaking to Caoimhe Mohan fresh from playing a match is an exhilarating experience. The Monaghan star loves football and her enthusiasm for the game is infectious. She's positive and passionate about her sport and grateful she was given the opportunity to play it.
Mohan - who has five Ulster championship medals - credits her father for her football career, and not just for introducing her to the game but for developing her skills. Along with bringing her to the pitch every day, he encouraged her to practise as often as she could and made sure she had everything she needed to do so.
When she was young, he painted a circle on their garage door and hours were spent aiming for that spot. Accuracy was and still is key for Mohan, who played years of underage football with the local boys' team.
"I grew up knowing nothing else, my house was football mad," she said. "I remember playing in the Féile. My dad was over the team and he entered me in the skills competition. He took me over to my club every evening. I had to practise off my left and right over and over, and if I missed I had to do it again. I ended up winning the All-Ireland skills so I learned the importance of hard work."
Her father pushed her hard but for Mohan that was the best thing he could have done. It was what she wanted - she loved the game and being good at it made her love it even more. He was her team manager all through the underage ranks and the one person she wanted to impress. After every game, she went straight to him, asking how she played.
Her club Truagh is another source of joy. Even though her Ulster championship semi-final against Armagh is just a week away, it doesn't stop her lining out with the people she grew up with. Although she had to retire at half-time in last week's game when the match was won, getting that win was her priority. The value of the club is something that's been instilled in her from a young age.
"I will always present myself at the club, even when championship is coming, because that's where I learned everything, and I want to give back," Caoimhe said. "I might not always train, but I'll always be at training. I don't want to be one of those players who don't turn up. All my friends, cousins and family play, and I want to play with them."
She is training to be a nurse, so that means long hours on the wards of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. To ensure that she can successfully combine her football and studies, living at home in Monaghan is essential. Her commute to and from work is a three-hour round trip. She leaves home just after 5.0am with her uniform on and a car packed with football gear for training. She works all day and through her evening break so she can make her session. A 12-hour shift is the norm for a nurse.
It's hard to believe Mohan is only 21, considering she has been on the inter-county scene since 2010. She was just 15 when she joined the panel, making her debut a year later in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Laois. Although she was extremely young, she didn't see anything negative about entering a senior set-up. She viewed it as an opportunity.
"Being involved at that age was brilliant, it was amazing," Mohan says. "You'd be so nervous. I knew of all the top players in the Monaghan team, so I was amazed to see them training. I loved getting into the high intensity. Even if you made a mistake, they would encourage you. The girls were lovely. I couldn't wait to go to training. Many of the older girls were dreading it, but I loved it."
In 2011, when she made her debut, Monaghan reached the All-Ireland final, losing to Cork, but getting so far so early in her career has made Mohan believe that her team can go all the way. The following year, they won the league, giving her even more incentive to go after that elusive All-Ireland. In 2013 they reached the All-Ireland final once more but again they fell short against Cork. Last year, she decided to take some time away from county duties and headed to New York for the summer. But she couldn't stay away and came back earlier than planned for the All-Ireland quarter-final, which they lost to Galway.
"It was something I always wanted to do at some stage," she said of her decision to go to New York. "I just had a feeling last year that there was something missing in the county so I just decided to go. A few people tried to persuade me not to go, but I just really wanted to do it. I stayed fit out there, and when I came back the girls didn't mind. I'd kept in touch with them."
Mohan is the type of player you want on your team. She captures attention when on the pitch, she never stops moving. Her long blonde ponytail and a jersey that seems to swamp her small frame makes her hard to forget. When she is on the pitch, the game moves faster. Something else that is moving fast, is ladies' football and camogie. Both sports are experiencing rapid growth, but with the increasing numbers of players, there are also many problems to be overcome. The Women's Gaelic Players Association (WGPA), launched in January, published statistics on player welfare which were shocking. Only a third of women inter-county players have access to hot showers after training, and 63 per cent are left out of pocket because of injury treatment. However, in Monaghan, Mohan feels that they get treated very well.
"We used to train in club fields but not anymore," she said. "People now know how much effort we are putting in and they are rewarding us by giving us facilities. We always get food after training and there is no separation between us and the lads. Before, if the lads had the kitchen, we would not be allowed to use it. Now we share. If we have a game coming up, we will get the pitch ahead of the men for training. We are both sponsored by Investec, so that helps too."
The WGPA is keen to work with counties to promote women's sport. With PricewaterhouseCoopers now on board as their first corporate sponsor, they can go about making this happen with campaigns such as 'Behind the Player', which reflects female footballers and camogie players from across Ireland as athletes and as successful, ambitious women off the field of play in a variety of careers and study areas. Mohan is one of the players featured in this campaign, which is being launched in Dublin tomorrow. They can also continue to provide ongoing support for players in their playing, personal and professional careers.
Although the WGPA has only been in operation for six months, Mohan is already seeing the benefits and she firmly believes that times are changing. And you get the sense she has some good days ahead on the football field.
Sunday Indo Sport