Sunday 26 May 2019

Sinéad Kissane: It's damning that Ed Sheeran has played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh before the Cork ladies football team

Ciara O'Sullivan of Cork scores her side's second goal of the game during the TG4 Munster Ladies Senior Football Final match between Cork and Kerry at CIT in Bishopstown, Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ciara O'Sullivan of Cork scores her side's second goal of the game during the TG4 Munster Ladies Senior Football Final match between Cork and Kerry at CIT in Bishopstown, Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Waterford’s Megan Dunford attempts to get away from Andrea Murphy of Kerry during the Munster Ladies SFC semi-final which was held as a curtain-raiser to the Kerry v Clare men’s semi-final in Fitzgerald Stadium earlier this month Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Sinéad Kissane

You overhear all sorts of conversations on the terrace in a championship game but I hadn't heard this particular kind at Fitzgerald Stadium before. The Kerry women's team were on their way to a win over Waterford in the Munster football semi-final which was part of a historic championship double-header with the Kerry men's semi-final with Clare earlier this month.

A group of guys nearby were discussing one of the Kerry players.

"I never even heard of her before," one of them said.

"What? She's been playing for years," his friend tutted in response.

There are plenty of ways to try and increase interest in women's Gaelic football yet nothing compares to being at a game. But to make people go to your game you must also bring your game to the people which is why a double-header comes with benefits.

A stand-alone women's provincial game could get an attendance of anywhere between 100-1,000. At half-time of the women's semi-final at Fitzgerald Stadium on the June Bank Holiday weekend, 8,000 people had passed through the turnstiles to watch the game and the ground filled up during the second half towards what would be an official attendance of 16,729 for the men's game.

The beauty of this double bill was seeing the support the Kerry women's team got from the home crowd during and after their 2-16 to 1-6 win. When midfielder Lorraine Scanlon kicked over a lovely point in injury-time, the appreciative 'oohs' and 'aahs' were hummed in the crowd as they would be for any game.

After the win, the players walked off together to a standing ovation from large sections of supporters in the stand. The only question left to be asked after was why it took so long for a championship double bill of this kind to take place.

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The success of the occasion in Killarney spiked hopes there could be a triple bill of games at Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Munster football finals with the women, minor and men's teams.

While there were some informal discussions, it was decided a triple-header couldn't take place because there are only four dressing-rooms at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and there were other considerations like length of day for stewarding etc.

So, Cork and Kerry will instead play their Munster ladies senior football final in the off-broadway setting of the back pitches at Cork Institute of Technology at 2pm.

The women-men double-header in Killarney is set to be the only one of its kind in the championship this summer. There has been a breakthrough this year though with seven double-headers (it was meant to be eight but one was lost to the weather) taking place in the league with women and men playing on the same card.

What was also significant this year was the GAA, the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and the Camogie Association approving memorandums of understanding between the GAA and the LGFA and between the GAA and the Camogie Association. The purpose of this is to "reflect the shared vision of the three organisations for a new overall organisational model within which the games, ideals and aspirations of all three Associations are equally developed and promoted".

Who knows if this is as close as the organisations will get but the facilities owned by the GAA is the biggest argument for the women's organisations to join the GAA. But maybe the new memorandums of understanding will also see the associations work more closely together when it comes to scheduling fixtures.

Obviously, you hope for a day when the women's game doesn't need to hang onto the coat-tails of the men's game for double-headers or be seen as a warm-up act for the main event. There are 46,286 reasons why the All-Ireland women's football finals day can stand on its own after the record-breaking attendance at Croke Park last September. From the middle of July, TG4 will broadcast double-headers from the women's football championship through to finals day on September 16. But there are opportunities at provincial level for more women-men double-headers.

The obvious reason why there may not be as many is because the minors are usually part of that slot. But why is automatic preference given to minors over a women's senior team? Sure, minor teams are officially part of the GAA, its tradition that minor teams are the curtain-raiser and, don't get me wrong, I love going to watch the Kerry minors play and there's been times when the minor game has been more entertaining than the senior game.

But is it right that an inter-county senior women's team loses out on a double bill to a minor team?

Imagine if the Cork GAA county boards and the Munster Council decided that since this is the first time the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh will host Munster football finals since 2014 that the double-header should include women and men. Why stick to tradition and the way things have always been? Why not bring in the women's teams for a double hit of Cork versus Kerry and let the minors have their own stand-alone game. Would that be so radical?

Because it is truly mind-blowing that a Cork women's senior football team has never played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. "Since the modern era success of the Cork ladies (2005-on) no Cork senior ladies footballer has played there. That includes the most successful GAA player ever, Rena Buckley (she has played there in camogie)," journalist and author Mary White underlined once again. "Cork, the most successful women's GAA team for the last 13 years, haven't played in the 'home' of Cork football."

What a lovely feeling it must be for the Cork women's team to know that Ed Sheeran has played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh before they have.

This year's Munster camogie final between Cork and Tipperary took place at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in a stand-alone game in May. To have the Cork women's team play their Munster football final at the Páirc before the men's final today would have been a way of, finally, welcoming them to the home of Cork GAA.

But no. Shiny new ground. Same old story.

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