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Launch of WGPA - We need to stand alone and speak out

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Aoife Lane, chairperson of the new Women's Gaelic Players Association, pictured at their launch

Aoife Lane, chairperson of the new Women's Gaelic Players Association, pictured at their launch

SPORTSFILE

Aoife Lane, chairperson of the new Women's Gaelic Players Association, pictured at their launch

The Women's Gaelic Players' Association (WGPA) got up and running yesterday thanks to funding from its male counterpart but stressed they will remain separate and give female players their own independent voice.

WGPA chairperson Aoife Lane said it would have been "the easiest thing in the world" to go in under the GPA umbrella.

The men's players' association gave them an undisclosed grant to initially set up, and have even offered them a desk in their Dublin offices, which they have so far declined.

"But what could we have been done then? Lane said. "There would be no women's voice.

"We have totally different issues, we are starting from a very different place. We have to work a whole lot harder to promote our games. Men were already up there, on a different level (when the GPA started). It's about being sensible."

She revealed that the women's body have discussed the issue of government grants but have far more urgent matters on their minds.

'A lot of work went into getting those grants for males," Lane noted.

"They did a huge audit on the economic value of men to sport. You can't be foolish to start demanding stuff without having the proper argument.

"If, in time, we feel we're ready to go with that, we will. I think government support might not have to be in grants, maybe we need more support for our teams to run themselves, (for) county boards to provide these things."

A survey of nearly 600 county players in 2014 certainly underlined the sort of practical issues which the WGPA will address as they seek to improve conditions and the health and welfare of women's inter-county players.

Showers

Only 7pc of them get travelling expenses for training, only a third have access to regular hot showers afterwards, and 63pc revealing that they have been out of pocket due to their county commitments, particularly due to injury.

A whopping 80 pc felt "overwhelmed at times" by their inter-county commitments and, as an immediate response, the WGPA has already set up a free 24-hour phone helpline to offer them advice and support for personal issues that may arise.

Cork football superstar Valerie Mulcahy is one of the six high-profile current football and camogie trailblazers who have helped set up the new association, and he said herself and her nine-time All-Ireland winning team-mates are "the lucky ones.

"It's easy to keep playing when you have the success," Mulcahy explained. "This is mainly for other counties who are possibly still struggling to get even proper structures in place. If we can help at all with that it will be worthwhile."

Yet, she confirmed that even the Rebelettes sometimes have to beg clubs for a pitch to train on and spend a lot off their off-season fundraising for team holidays, which they are currently doing for a trip to Miami at Easter.

"We have a good structure in place with a very experienced manager, a good management team and good backing from our county board but that did take time," Mulcahy said.

"There was a process there and we learned to ask. In asking we were able to receive help, and guide them (county board) too in what we needed.

"The whole idea of the WGPA is to find out what issues are there and seek to improve them, rather than going home in the car giving out; to try to use our voices to make a difference.

"Yes, it costs me to play for Cork but it's my choice to play. I think everyone accepts that when they're playing, I don't think it's about expenses. In Cork we've got meals and stuff.

Happy

"Things can improve but it's more to do with being sure players are happy and getting the best out of ourselves."

Waterford IT lecturer Lane (a daughter of former Galway hurler Noel), Mulcahy, Anna Geary (Cork), Fiona McHale (Mayo), Deirdre Murphy (Clare), Gemma Begley (Tyrone) and Kate Kelly (Wexford) will make up the first WGPA executive.

They have already enrolled 400 members, are not charging any membership fee in the first year, and hope to have an AGM, and some sponsors on board, in a year's time.

Basic facilities and support are among their immediate targets as well as avoiding fixture clashes for dual players and improving media coverage and attendances.

They said they will engage in dialogue with the camogie and ladies' football associations, who were both represented at yesterday's announcement, as was the GAA.

"A lot of it is raising expectations and players saying 'it's not good enough,'" Lane said.

"The force of a national body is behind them now that will lend them support.

"A lot of our work this year will be to find commercial partners. We have to stand on our own two feet. We're lucky to have the support of the GPA but we most definitely have to be an independent financial entity as well. I'd like to think we can do well there."

Irish Independent