Taoiseach's seal of approval

A NEW era of 'progressive change' will guarantee the future of camogie, predicted Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when he spoke at a special banquet on Saturday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Cumann Camógaiochata na nGael.

The highlight was the announcement of the camogie team of the century, which featured four players each from Dublin and Cork and, in the choice of Tipperary's Deirdre Hughes, the only current player.

Mr. Ahern said he believed that the new playing rules (extending teams to 15-a-side) and the re-structuring of the All-Ireland championships had brought a freshness to the organisational approach of the sport. "It will ensure that camogie remains an essential part of our Gaelic Games heritage in the 21st century," he commented.

President Mary McAleese, in a message of congratulations, expressed delight that camogie was now getting the recognition it richly deserved. She said that a keen competitive atmosphere and team spirit that had engendered great achievement in recent years had also encouraged young players to overcome the physical and metal challenges of the game to achieve their real potential.

In the process, they were making new friends and building bridges that would endure long after they had moved on with their lives. "I say that because camogie is my own sport, having played it at school and for Kickhams GAA in Ardoyne and gained many long-lasting friendships with the people I met through the game," she wrote.

In recent years, the Taoiseach added that he had witnessed a marked increase in the profile of camogie, thanks largely to the groundswell of support that it enjoys in the schools, the clubs and the media. Live television coverage of the All-Ireland finals had become the norm and this, in turn, was bringing the skill and excitement of the game to a wider audience.

"Each time that I visited finals over many years, especially the televised ones, the crowds have been very impressive. It's a great sign of the popularity of the game when attendances are seen to be constantly much bigger than attendances at most national finals in other codes dare I say it and apologise, than the men's FAI Cup final and the All-Ireland rugby league final. The icing on the cake this year was that the finals attracted the highest TV viewing in the history of camogie."

GAA president Sean Kelly said the Camogie Association could take justifiable pride in reaching 100 years, particularly in such healthy condition. "It's obviously a great achievement and obviously an encouragement for them. Now, through their whole new approach and working in close co-operation with us and ladies football, we can go from strength to strength.

Hurling and camogie go hand in hand. Wherever hurling will be promoted, the game of camogie will be promoted equally into the future."

Ladies Football chief executive, Helen O'Rourke insists that the two sports are not in competition with each other. "We're all supporting Gaelic games the same as hurling and football. We have a lot of dual players and with co-operation we can facilitate both," she commented.

"While we're only established 30 years and camogie is celebrating a hundred years, there's still an awful lot of work to be done. The one thing we are doing is that we are providing a great service for the women of this country in giving them an opportunity to play field sports. There's plenty of room for both of us."

Miriam O'Callaghan, President of the Camogie Assocication, said that the players honoured on the Team of the Century were representative of the many great players who had, and continued to give, marvellous entertainment to so many.

Two of the players honoured are decease, Kathleen (Mills) Hill described by RTE commentator Micheal O Muircheartaigh as the most elegant camogie player he ever saw and Sophie Brack, both from Dublin. With the exception of Kilkenny star Angela Downey, whose career spanned 25 years ago, all the other players were present to receive their awards. The failure of Angela's twin sister Ann to gain a place was one of many talking points in relation to the selection of the team.

Camogie team of the century: Eileen Duffy O'Mahony (Dublin); Liz Neary (Kilkenny), Marie Costine O'Donovan (Cork), Mary Sinnott Dinan (Wexford); Sandie Fitzgibbon (Cork), Bridie Martin McGarry (Kilkenny), Margaret O'Leary Leacy (Wexford); Mairead McAtamney Magill (Antrim), Kathleen Mills Hill (Dublin); Linda Mellerick (Cork), Pat Moloney-Lenihan (Cork), Una O'Connor (Dublin); Sophie Brack (Dublin), Deirdre Hughes (Tipperary), Angela Downey (Kilkenny).

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