The outgoing Cork LGFA development officer says some ego-driven coaches are creating a culture where girls are leaving the game due to a lack of opportunities.
Eamonn O’Connor pointed to situations where mentors are devoting more time to better girls at underage level, even playing them at lower grades, against the rules, to the detriment of other players.
While he says it involves a minority of coaches at some clubs, O’Connor fears a win-at-all-costs mentality is creeping into juvenile games.
“Winning appears to be more important than the participation or the inclusiveness of all the girls and developing their skills. If coaches are drilling into them ‘win, win, win’, that’s not being fair, especially on young girls.
“If there are better girls on the team, unfortunately, some of our coaches and mentors are spending more time with those girls rather than spending it with the girls that need the time.
There were situations where we had girls winning matches by big margins and they’d still keep trying to beat them by more. That’s not what development is about.
“I would have a concern presently there are girls playing at a higher grade of football who would be playing at a lower grade as well, and [clubs] having plenty of girls to play at the lower grade.”
The LGFA has a rule where clubs nominate their 15 best players, who can’t then play below the ‘A’ grade, but O’Connor says it’s not a secret that this isn’t being followed in all cases.
Cork also has a policy of unlimited substitutions to make sure every player gets a game at underage levels but not all coaches adhere to that aspiration.
“Quite a number of parents would have a concern with the game time some girls are getting. Some girls are getting an awful lot of game time with different teams and other girls wouldn’t get that much game time at all.
“We can’t afford to be losing players because of some mentors and coaches wanting to increase their own portfolios. That can be to the detriment of our young girls. There is a fall off to other sports from ladies football and we don’t want it to escalate.”
O’Connor says there’s an acute need to get more women involved as mentors and officials in clubs, with many run completely by men.
What we’re trying to get is inclusiveness and player retention more than anything else. Fairness is very important. But we need more ladies involved in ladies clubs.
“It’s trying to get fairness, honesty, transparency, and get more ladies involved. Let there be an even playing field for all clubs, not just for some clubs, and don’t have your 15 best players playing in the lower grades when you have enough girls.”
While acknowledging a majority of genuine coaches and clubs, O’Connor, who will be succeeded in his role by Miriam Forbes, hopes the situation can be nipped in the bud.
In his report to the Cork LGFA convention, O’Connor said: “It is most demoralising and unfair treatment of our young players to be treated differently, especially at the development stages of their footballing career.
“We need to keep all of our young players, so as we approach 20/20 for equality for our ladies in sport, let us all make a 20/20 resolution: Don’t lose more young ladies from our games because of the lack of understanding of their coaches and mentors who see winning as success.
“The ‘having to win’ attitude serves no good for our children going forward.”
The same convention on Monday evening heard the cost of preparing the Cork senior ladies football team in 2019 came to €111k, a 37% increase on the previous year’s figure.
Despite the county failing to reach this year’s All-Ireland final, as they had done in 2018, there was a year-on-year increase of almost €30k in the cost of readying Ephie Fitzgerald’s team.
The accounts show that expenditure on the county’s flagship team reached €110,995, significantly up on the 2018 total of €81,142.
The cost of preparing all Cork teams in 2019 — from senior down to U14 — was €158k, a rise of €40k on the previous year.
There was a separate spend of €17,630 under the heading ‘medical/physio’ in 2019. There is no comparative figure for 2018.
Cork’s 2019 spend still pales in comparison to the money pumped into the men’s game.
Leitrim’s team expenses for 2018 came in at €298k, the smallest total of all 32 counties last year, and yet the Connacht county’s outlay on their flagship sides is still almost double that of the Cork ladies football board.
The notable hike in Cork’s senior team expenses contributed to overall expenditure jumping by nearly €100k in the past 12 months.
The Cork ladies football board recorded a deficit of €8,382 for the year ending October 31, 2019.
Income for the year totalled €354,414, a significant improvement on the 2018 figure of €299k, but this was offset by increased expenditure, which rose from €267k to €362k.
Fixtures secretary Ken Whelan also highlighted a shortage of referees at Monday’s convention: “In some divisions, games were cancelled due to the lack of referees.”
Neilus Carroll defeated Tom Scally by 40 votes to 39 to succeed Robbie Smyth as chairman. Outgoing secretary Marian Crowley is the new board treasurer, while Kieran Keane, who preceded Crowley as secretary, comes back into the role for a second term.