Cork ladies football boss Ephie Fitzgerald says amalgamation with the GAA is the only way forward to sustain the level of training and commitment that female players are now putting into the game.
With the TG4 All-Ireland Championships starting this weekend, he said: “The venues and the coverage given by TG4 are second to none, the only downside at the moment is the (poor) crowds.
“The fact that we don’t get crowds at matches means the money isn’t there to give the girls expenses and no one should be out of pocket playing for their county. Our county board are excellent, we’ve no issue with them. I know if we asked for expenses for the girls they’d give it,” said Fitzgerald, whose management team also don’t seek any expenses.
“But that is finite. If we started drawing expenses for everyone, the kitty would dry up very, very quickly. Where are they going to get the money if they’re not making it?”
He believes the only solution is for the LGFA and the Camogie Association to amalgamate with the GAA.
“I do think there needs to be an affiliation with Croke Park.
That would provide better structures, avoid fixture clashes, provide expenses, make more double-headers, and create crowds, just a co-ordinated effort to do things together and create an atmosphere at the games.
The crowds for the women’s All-Ireland finals break records with each season and the LGFA have just announced that this year’s semi-finals will be played, for the first time, in Croke Park on August 25.
But the All-Ireland final crowd sizes still bear nocorrelation to the attendances at league and other championship games, includingprovincial finals.
“We’re one of the most successful teams and if there’s a hundred people there, that’s a lot. It’s normally parents and a few friends that will attend,” said Fitzgerald.
“I do think it’s improving but I don’t think you’ll ever get to stage of getting 10,000 at a ladies match. Women don’t follow sport as much as they should, in my opinion. Ladies need to support ladies first.”
Cork are once again among the favourites for the Brendan Martin Cup, especially after their run to the Division One league title included a thrilling extra-time semi-final victory over reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin.
A new championship format of four round-robin groups was introduced last season and this year’s draw means that, barring shocks, the two current giants of the women’s game are destined to meet in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Niamh Cotter, whose return from Canada has really strengthened Cork’s midfield, broke a bone in her hand this week but it’s not as serious as first feared and her temporary loss is offset by Doireann O’Sullivan’s return.
The three in-a-row chasing Dubs will initially be without last year’s Player of the Year Sinead Aherne who partially dislocated her shoulder in the Leinster final.
Siobhan Killeen, recovering from a badly torn hamstring injury, is a more long-term casualty but the big surprise is the Jackies’ loss of experienced defender Sinead Finnegan since the league, with manager Mick Bohan describing her as “on a sabbatical”.
“League is league, Dublin will still be the team to beat,” Fitzgerald insisted. “Look at their age profile compared to ours and a lot of their players are battled-hardened.”
He said predictions of a two-horse race are “very disrespectful to Donegal, Galway, and Mayo”. Donegal have just won an impressive Ulster three in a row and Division 1 finalists Galway did the same in Connacht but only after a replay.
“Mayo could have beaten Galway the first day and in my opinion there’s at least five teams who’ll be very competitive,” said Fitzgerald.
Cork are grouped with Cavan and Armagh, Dublin with Monaghan and Waterford, Galway face Kerry and Westmeath, and the fourth group comprises Donegal, Mayo, and Tyrone.
Cork are not involved in this week’s opening round when Armagh face Cavan without their dual starCaroline O’Hanlon who’s busy captaining Northern Ireland in netball’s World Cup in Liverpool (July 12-21).
Dublin open their title defence against Waterford on Saturday (3.30pm) in a televised double-header from Portlaoise that includes Galway versus Kerry (1.45pm).
In the TG4 Intermediate openers, Down versus Sligo and Roscommon versus Leitrim will be part of a treble-header in Roscommon with the men’s Super 8.
Kilkenny’s withdrawal from the junior competition has seen Derry moved into an all-Ulster Group with Antrim and Fermanagh, while Louth, Carlow, and London are in the other section.