Sport Hurling

Sunday 25 March 2018

Liberated 'Chicks' with attitude

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

SEXING it up. It's the latest media soundbyte, a new phrase for old publicity tricks and there's a lot of it about these days, particularly in politics and sport.

Still, the absolute last place you'd expect to find it in the gaelic games world is in camogie. For years the game was perceived as the sporting wing of the ICA; sensibly-shoed and tweed-skirted country women who preferred flaking muddy sliotars to filing their nails.

Like most stereotypes, of course, that image is now laughably out of date.

Yet the camogie association's 2004 centenary promotional campaign - labelled 'Chicks With Sticks' is fronted by three Dublin players in their LBDs (little black dresses) - still almost had the impact of those Women's Institute gals stripping off for a charity calendar.

It has raised a giggle and many loved it. However, others, including some of tomorrow's protagonists, have questioned its wisdom and subliminal message. Hurlers' talents, they point out, are allowed speak for them. Henry Shefflin doesn't need, and isn't asked, to flash his flesh so why should the girls?

What surprised many was that camogie's administrators, who historically had a reputation for immersing their heads in their knitting, agreed to it.

The appointment of Sineád O'Connor in late July was another sideline cut which proved that attitudes and the personnel at the top have changed utterly under new president Miriam O'Callaghan. O'Connor is Cumann Camógaíochta's first, full-time sponsorship and finance manager.

The 'Chicks' campaign preceded her arrival in July. Then an accountant with Price Waterhouse Cooper and a club player with Portobello, the Moycullen woman diplomatically insists her own reaction was mixed.

"On the one hand it was great, got a lot of attention and started people talking about camogie," she said. "But at the same time you'd have people saying 'well, why should you have to glamourise it? Isn't there enough (attraction) there already?'

"There does seem to be a bit of a double standard there. But actually no one said 'This is an absolute disgrace' or anything remotely like that," she said, laughing. "Most people reacted really positively."

So, now that camogie has controversially grabbed our miniscule attention spans, what next?

Skillwise the game is now a fully aerial 15-a-side spectacle and this year's new round robin-style championship gave every team a minimum of three games.

Tomorrow, the players will officially unveil 'skorts' - shorts with a wrap-around front - and jerseys which are now 'ladies' fit. A new glossy magazine 'CG' (Camogie Girl) was launched this week and you can expect more promotional changes over the next 12 months as part of centenary year. An All-Stars scheme seems long overdue and O'Connor is itching to upgrade their website.

For these finals, those who bought 'group' tickets go into a draw for a set of jerseys and she has been startled by how grateful people are at such a simple innovation.

In targetting the kids, O'Connor seems to have her priorities right. The huge voluntary effort people still make has blown her away. "There's people who eat, sleep and breathe camogie. Their efforts are phenomenal and we're blessed to have them."

The biggest surprise was discovering that most outsiders do not realise that camogie, while having a permanent office in Croke Park since 1980, is largely independent of the GAA.

One area where they badly need better co-operation is the fixtures list. Even O'Connor's diplomatic eye cannot ignore the bloody-mindedness of tomorrow's match clashing directly with the men's All-Ireland U-21 hurling final.

O'Connor is convinced that the camogie faithful undervalue their own superstars. She organised a group ticket for tomorrow's match (?55 for one adult and 10 children), yet all week has had people on cribbing about having, shock horror, to actually shell out money to watch the sublime skills of Mary O'Connor and Deirdre Hughes.

"We'd love to let everyone in for free but we can't afford it. It costs us a fortune to get the pitch," she says.

"There's double-standards here. Supporters paid ?50 to get into the hurling final last week and would probably have paid twice that but think we should let them in for free.

"Camogie has the exact same things that the rest of the GAA has - membership across the country, a great game and fantastic players who are just as commited - but you don't hear about these things apart from once or twice a year."

If O'Connor gets her way, that will change.

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