The record-breaking attendance of 24,730 at Sunday’s camogie finals was one of many highlights of a dizzying day for the sport, but in keeping with expectations for a game that has gone stratospheric in recent times.
In the past year, female sport has enjoyed an explosion of interest. Last September the record attendance of over 50,141 at the ladies’ football finals became the best attended female sporting event in Europe. Some 60,739 watched Atletico Madrid’s women face Barcelona in March.
This summer was synonymous with the success of the women’s soccer World Cup, with the winning team of America containing many outspoken and charismatic members. Since the All-Ireland camogie finals became stand-alone sports events, the attendances have steadily risen.
In 2014, 12,476 came through the gates. That rose up to break the 20k mark in 2016 with 20,037 and while they fell just marginally short of the 25,000 mark they had targeted this year, the level they have reached is remarkable.
President of the Camogie Association, Kathleen Woods, says it came as no surprise from those involved in promoting the game.
“We were expecting to beat it,” says the Armagh native, from the Derrynoose club.
She explained: “So, more people are being exposed to the top quality of the sport. The notion that there are wee girls running around the pitch pretending to be hurlers… That’s gone.
“They are strong, determined, highly-tuned and toned athletes who spend four, maybe five days a week honing their skills and improving their physical competencies. And that has been the case for a number of years. It’s taken a while to build it up and I really believe camogie is on the crest of a wave, I truly do and I have high hopes for our game over this next decade.”
New technology has helped their cause. Sky TV broadcasting the game was a statement of intent also and Woods paid lavish tributes to the employees of the Camogie Association.
“I have to say the team of dedicated employees that we have, you couldn’t pay them for what they do,” she said. “Everybody comes into work with a job description, but to achieve what they have yesterday, it takes everybody on board and everybody driving forward.”
Part of the appeal of this year’s final was how referee Ray Kelly handled the occasion, allowing a certain amount of physical contact that was disappointingly absent in the previous year’s decider. Woods revealed that work is well underway to implement a number of experimental rule changes for the 2020 leagues, with the level of physicality expected to be addressed.
The first draft of rule changes is expected to be back to Ard Chomhairle for their October meeting.
“We are hoping for no more than three rule changes at a time – I think we have learned that as a way forward. You have to allow referees, coaches, players a chance to come to terms with changes,” said Woods.
“They will put forward their recommendations to us and we have past players, present players, we have health and medical specialists on this Rules group and it is chaired by Liam O’Neill (former President of the GAA).”
The Camogie Association have also plans to increase participation levels in the large urban areas of Belfast and Derry, joining in with the greater efforts of the ‘Gaelfast’ financial package aimed at strengthening the GAA in Belfast, and a similar scheme in Derry city.
Woods stated, “The staff member over this will be funded by the Camogie Association at national level. We will be working very closely with the Belfast ‘Gaelfast’ initiative. Our rural clubs are more secure than our urban clubs. We have huge urban populations that are missing out on our games, so we really want to being our game to those girls.
"Schools will be a big target. I know Ulster administrator Julie O’Neill is doing major work in schools and colleges across Ulster. She is having great results. She is the administrator in Armagh. Integration with the GAA and camogie in Ulster is very, very strong and leading the way, on the ground.”
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