The Camogie Association is “not afraid of change” as players demand rule changes to improve the game as a spectacle. That was the strong message from association president, Kathleen Woods at yesterday’s launch of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Championships, where it was also revealed that six of the group matches in the senior championship will be streamed live, and that New York will be the venue for the second All-Stars tour in November.
Both of these developments are backed by Liberty Insurance, who are entering their seventh season as championship sponsors, and have placed a major emphasis on raising the profile and exposure of camogie, as well as looking to drive increased participation and attendances. An attractive spectacle is central to that ideal, and it was notable that Woods acknowledged the new horizons created by the players’ growing dedication to being elite athletes and the challenges facing the sport in view of that.
There has been widespread debate surrounding the rules of the game, particularly in the wake of last year’s stop-start All-Ireland final between Cork and Kilkenny. The revolutionary motion passed at Congress in April, allowing the introduction of trial rules without having to wait for the previously-required three-year cycle to come around, showed that the association was listening.
Derek McGrath and Ger Cunningham review the weekend's hurling with Anthony Daly
Yesterday, Woods spoke of the players “going through an evolutionary period”, doing “the exercise of a professional athlete in an amateur world”.
“Árd Comhairle are not afraid of change and we’re not afraid of the challenges. Our most important step is the creation of the playing rules review working group.”
Cork captain, Gemma O’Connor, was part of a group of players brought together by the WGPA to look at the issues and welcomed the acknowledgement change was needed.
“Things are slow, but I think they’re finally starting to move,” said O’Connor, a nine-time All-Ireland winner and 11-time All-Star who captains the Rebels as they bid for three-in-a-row honours this season.
“They’re setting up the rules review group which hopefully will start sooner rather than later. Liberty Insurance, with the All-Star trip and the streaming of games is moving it in the right direction. We just hope that it’s moving a bit quicker and it continues to move in that direction.
"More than likely I won’t be there to play with (any new) rules but it’s for the future players, to make the game that bit better. And we have the product to make it an unbelievable sport. What we want is a bit more flow to the game.”
O’Connor asserted that “the game has to reflect what the players are doing off the pitch” and that an opportunity existed now to make real progress.
We’re not being negative about it. We’re all in it together to make sure it’s a great game… We want the talking point (after the All-Ireland final to be) that camogie is a great sport, that the hurling is fantastic, it’s fast, it’s physical.
"That’s what attracts viewership. We don’t want to go backward, we want to move forwards.”
Kilkenny defender Grace Walsh concurred. She said: “I would just like the rules to be tweaked a little bit… Let girls show the skill-base they have, show the quality, show the pace (Camogie) can be played at, the way it’s played at training” stated Walsh.
“I think that will bring the game forward and get more people to come to the games because they want to watch it, because they think it’s going to be an exciting game.”
Dublin’s Aisling Maher was part of the WGPA group along with O’Connor, Chloe Morey from Clare, Kilkenny’s Anne Dalton and others, and emphasised the need for “constructive steps” in a shared journey involving all the stakeholders.
“I think there’s a common perception that everyone wants shouldering in, and I don’t think necessarily that’s the case” Maher observed. “I would like to see a slight change in the definition in the tackle. I feel like at the moment it’s a little ambiguous.
“It’s very difficult for referees to implement, and it’s very difficult as a player to know how a referee is going to implement it game-to-game. It’s very difficult to spend all this time on strength and conditioning, and then tackle a player and not give away a free, because any kind of physical contact seems to be falling on the wrong side more often than not.”