I hope we’ve proven ourselves to the players, says Aoife Lane

Aoife Lane has just completed a year as head of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association. Twelve months of lessons learned. How has it been?

I hope we’ve proven ourselves to the players, says Aoife Lane

Tough. Affirming. Often at the same time.

“A year on I’m delighted we did it, because it was absolutely the right thing to do. There were tough times but I hope we’ve proven ourselves to the players, who are the most important part.

“As for the public — I don’t know if we even exist to the wider public, really.

“Personally, I work within my own environment here in the college (Waterford IT) with students and so forth, whereas engaging with the commercial sector, the media, all of that — it’s been tough, but I’ve loved it.”

Case study number one: The camogie controversy, when it looked like the participants in an All-Ireland senior quarter-final would be decided on a coin toss. That pitched Lane into the middle of the maelstrom.

“You talk about learning . . . I don’t think we dealt with that perfectly but we did the best we could, we represented the players with the best intentions at heart, to support them and to get a positive outcome.

“The outcome was positive enough — it wasn’t ideal, but what happened was better than what was in place.

“What I found was that people can be very trusting if you’re up front with them — not being naive, but being honest and saying, ‘I don’t know what the answer is’, particularly the print media.”

Case study number two: She’s generous towards this newspaper but found the media’s general apathy towards the WGPA a surprise.

“We struggled to get people interested early on. You nearly had to put stories in people’s laps before they’d write them. It was new to me that you had to work hard to make a story, and it was fine once I learned that.

“We worked hard to find stories but we found them, and we probably doubled or trebled the coverage because we were there.

“There’s goodwill once you do the work. We go to events with the GPA, joint scholarship announcements, and I’m never asked a question by a journalist, nor are our players.

“The journalists go to Dessie (Farrell, chief executive of the GPA) or Sean (Potts, GPA head of communications), or the male players.

“That’s still difficult, and a challenge. I’d like to move further and have a journalist — as you’re doing — just come up and ask how it’s going, what’s happening.

“The women involved in the games are as interesting as their male equivalents.”

In that context Lane credits Mary White’s book on the Cork ladies footballers with helping to raise awareness and consciousness (“About sport, not just women’s sport”).

“Anything we do online and so on, it has a huge reach. There’s an interest and if the stories are there. With the GPA events... I don’t know if the media would go at all if it were just us.

“When you’re a minority you need allies, and the GPA is a very strong ally for us. We lean on them and I love working with them because they’ve been very helpful, opening doors for us and so on.

“You might as well be realistic. We had a scholarship launch last year in Carton House, fabulous afternoon, sent out the release to everybody and no media came. There’s no point in being naive.” Or in ignoring realities.

Lane acknowledges, for instance, that women’s rugby is attracting footballers: “There’s a greater good but there are also your responsibilities to ladies football and camogie.

“Everyone has to look after their own, but there’s a respect there as well, and as long as things are done properly it’s fine. A few players have gone into rugby, but some have also come back, and that’s part of our job — to ensure standards are high enough to make sure there’s as much reward in our sports.

“I know the international aspect is a huge opportunity, and putting yourself in those shoes, it’d be hard to say no, but you’d like to make the decision a bit more challenging. That it’d be easier to stay.”

The positives have been huge: For Lane personally, getting to know the players has been a high point. So have the counselling services.

“Not that many have been in touch but if you make a difference to six lives, that’s important. We have 16 scholarships, eight players who’ve gone through the leadership programme.

“The players are so decent and grounded. Kate Nolan of Carlow won junior player of the year. When she came onto the stage she said to me, ‘this doesn’t happen to people from Carlow’, and she was in tears.” Year two will bring its own challenges.

“These girls are very motivated,” says Lane. “It’s not about external reward, which isn’t their priority — it’s about being the best they can be, and when they’re not getting the best chance to do that, then that’s our priority.

“To get top coaches, strength and conditioning, dietary supports — if we quantify them as elite athletes then we need to think about how we make that happen.

“I don’t know the answer but learning is stage one for us, and then coming up with solutions.

“Finance is a barrier for us and we’re trying to overcome that. There’s no point glossing over everything and saying it’s all fine.

“We still have a lot of work to do to improve the experience of the county player; we haven’t made a huge dent in that but it’s our core focus. You have to respect the fact that they invest so much but are we giving them the chance to be their best?”

More questions. More lessons.

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