Three-time All-Ireland camogie winner Therese O’Callaghan has described the difficulties women encounter in the male-dominated world of sports journalism.
O’Callaghan appeared in eight All-Ireland finals in her playing days with Cork, but admits the adjustment to life as a reporter wasn’t easy.
She has been writing for 15 years, and is one of a, still small, number of women regularly found in GAA press boxes up and down the country.
Speaking on a special Irish Examiner podcast for International Women’s Day, O’Callaghan said:
“For anyone starting out, it is difficult. You are in the minority. There is a gender imbalance there.
“When I started out, I can honestly say I sat in the car a few times until the ball was about to be thrown in.
“I remember the first few matches I went to and I was looking at the other reporters and I was thinking they’ll be looking at me to see what I am doing here.
“Your own confidence is shattered a little bit, even if it shouldn't be. You are questioning yourself when you are looking at these people who are at it for years.
“So when I started out definitely I did question myself. And I would be at the back of the huddle sticking in the microphone, letting everyone else ask the questions, so I would still get what I need.
“But over the years, I suppose you gain respect from people, and people get to know you. And I would like to think I've gained knowledge over the years. And you do get more confidence in yourself. But it’s continuous, that doesn’t mean I won’t go to something today and feel overwhelmed.”
Asked whether male managers can be dismissive of female reporters, O’Callaghan said it can sometimes happen unintentionally.
“They may not mean to be dismissive sometimes, but because they mightn’t know you as well as other people, they tend to face and speak to other reporters.
“I’m sure the male managers don’t mean to be dismissive. It might be my interpretation. It may not be correct.
“And certainly I’ve got better at this. I can stand on my own two feet.
“And people couldn’t be more helpful. My male colleagues as well. What is great for me is that now they will ask me if there’s a score missed or whatever. Before they might skip you and ask someone next to you and you’re going ‘I’m here too’.
“But now they’ll just ask you ‘who scored that’, and that makes you more comfortable.
“It’s a process when you are starting out. It’s tough going, but I love it.”
Former Ireland rugby international Nora Stapleton, now women’s sport lead at Sport Ireland, points out the same evolution is now happening with women in TV punditry, noting the criticism many female pundits endure when starting out.
“The reality is, because we’re used to hearing men commentate on male sports, that when that picture changes we automatically hone in to see what the female is saying and is she correct in everything she’s saying.
“There’s a heightened awareness around that.
“And we don’t just do it for commentary, we do it for referees. Both males and females are guilty of it.
“I’m guilty of it. I remember when Joy Neville refereed her first game I was looking at what she was going rather than what the players were doing. And I caught myself doing it and thought ‘isn’t that horrible?’. And now it’s just normal for Joy to be in the middle of the pitch at any rugby match.
“It’s that reality, that when we see a female for the first time in a space that hasn’t been the norm, we start to pick holes in their performance instead of just watching the game.
“It’s what you grew up with,” added Irish basketball international Gráinne Dwyer. “It was the norm. All you saw on the Sunday Game was men. But now they’ve integrated the women and it’s great. It has to evolve.”
Stapleton doesn’t like when the word ‘tokenism’ is thrown around in relation to female pundits.
“I hate when women turn down something and say ‘I don’t want to be the token female. I’m like ‘someone has to be, go on there and soon everyone finds out you’re not the token’.
“Grasp it and really go in and show you can make a difference. I’d encourage any female to pout their hand up and be that first female in whatever space it is. That’s how we’re going to speed up change.”