It’s Joan O’Flynn’s last weekend as president of the Camogie Association.
The Cork woman was proud to do the job, but she admits it wasn’t the dream as a child.
“You don’t grow up wanting to be president of the Camogie Association, you grow up wanting to win an All-Ireland medal or a county medal.
“But there’s a progression when you stop playing, deciding what to do. I became a referee when I stepped down but it wasn’t a strong point for me, it was probably too early, going straight from playing to refereeing.”
O’Flynn worked for 10 years in London with a social policy unit, but when she moved back to live in Celbridge, she fell in with the local camogie club, winning a county medal with them almost 20 years after her first county title, won with her home club, Fr O’Neill’s of Ladysbridge in East Cork.
“Because my own family were always involved with the GAA, when Celbridge were having issues with fixtures I offered to help out because I’d have always been used to dealing with those. I became secretary, then got involved with the county board.”
The years in London didn’t hurt. O’Flynn worked for an action group there specialising in Irish issues, working with local authorities and organisations reaching out to vulnerable Irish people. “It was an innovative organisation because while a lot of other organisations were direct service bodies, we were working more in research and policy, trying to establish what was working and what wasn’t.
“That was useful when I got involved in camogie, because one of the first things we did when I became president was draw up a new development plan for the organisation, which involved a lot of consultation with players, mentors and referees. That’s been a constant for me, because I feel we need to keep reinventing rather than staying locked in the status quo.
“The one thing, though, with change is that it can’t be dropped on people. One issue, for instance, for us, has been the introduction of age classifications for camogie: there had been a practice of players leapfrogging from juvenile camogie to adult camogie, with no transition through teenage camogie.
“You don’t ask a child to run a marathon, so why would you ask a child to play an adult game without that transition? But there are motions down on it for Congress this weekend, which shows that people are struggling to cope with that change.”
True to her days working with policy, she sees the big picture.
“Participation is the big thing for camogie, the bread and butter issue, but you can’t detach sport from the context it’s being played in. Camogie can’t be detached from female sport, and female sport can’t be detached from sport, but that means female and male sports are compared with each other, which irritates me.
“Female sport should be valued in its own right. I rarely hear people compare John Treacy and Sonia O’Sullivan, for instance, but you constantly hear camogie and ladies football compared to the men’s codes. I’d prefer to see female sports valued for their own strengths.”
To that end, the Camogie Association has been involved in a player welfare survey, detailing how camogie impacts on their lives.
“There’s data on players taking time off work and so on, it’ll create an agenda for the future. It’ll probably raise questions about whether camogie should be talking to the GPA, for instance. It’d be interesting — camogie has claimed its place in the Gaelic games family, if you like. When I walk into the club in Celbridge I’m a club member, not a camogie club member. Initiatives that mean camogie is involved with other aspects of the GAA, and we can exchange ideas and information that help each other.
“There’s a process around that, dealing with the GPA, and up to now we haven’t had the data to have that conversation. But now we have some evidence on the issues for our players it’d be healthy to have that conversation and see where it’s going.”
Now O’Flynn is going back to her favourite part of the game. “The last three Monday nights I’ve been on the sideline in Celbridge, coaching,” she says.
“We had our first game last week in the Kildare league and we dug out a draw.
“Coaching Ireland accredits our coaches, there’s a formal process there, so in the next couple of weekends there are coach education courses — after those you then coach coaches, basically.”
Any last wishes before passing on the chain of office?
“I’d like to see a map of camogie with serious level of the game being played in each county. Now there are 28 counties involved, so we have a job in getting county boards established in four more counties. That means trying to found clubs, trying to get players involved.
“One thing I’m delighted we managed to do is to publish the history of the game. I thought it was important, after 107 years, that the narrative be documented.
“It’s been a privilege, being involved has been like a different eye level: when you’re a player that’s your focus, when you’re involved in administration you have a slightly different view, and as president you have the helicopter view, if you like.”
Those rotors have stilled now. That’s why she got those new Puma boots, and why they’re getting muddy every Monday night in Celbridge.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved