Recently retired Cork ladies footballer Valerie Mulcahy has provided a damning insight into the “second-class” treatment of female inter-county players, claiming that the barriers and challenges faced by ladies footballers when the organisation was established in 1974 still exist today.
Mulcahy, a 10-time All-Ireland medal winner with Cork, announced her retirement last Monday and while fully appreciative of the remarkable success she enjoyed over the past 12 years, insists her time in the red shirt was somewhat dampened by the constant fight for equality.
The six-time All Star recipient bemoans how female players have never enjoyed the same experiences as their male counterparts, largely because the basics in guaranteeing player welfare — training expenses, a decent pitch to train on, a hot shower and sandwich afterwards — are not accessible to most inter-county teams.
“Rather than being championed or appreciated, our female players are struggling to maintain a balance between the rapidly increasing standards of the game and their own welfare. Is the athlete we dreamed about becoming worth it when the benefits are far outweighed by the difficulties,” the 33-year old asked at yesterday’s Law Society of Ireland annual conference.
“Among the various sponsorships afforded to male inter-county players, they additionally receive a grant from the Government which female players do not receive.”
Perhaps, if the game Mulcahy holds so dear carried a higher-profile then the revenue cycle would improve. Attendances at ladies football matches, though, can never hope to grow so long as games continue to be played on pitches “you can’t even find with a Sat Nav”.
“When it comes to using pitch facilities, we are second-class. Every season, important matches are moved last minute to make way for men’s teams’ training sessions. It doesn’t matter how far in advance a pitch is booked. If the men need it, we are dismissed.”
The 2012 All-Ireland ladies football final involving Cork and Kerry was one such fixture subject to a late change in date following the Galway-Kilkenny All-Ireland hurling final ending in a draw. Neither county, at the time, made an issue of the rescheduling. Yesterday, Mulcahy let rip.
“When the All-Ireland hurling final ended in a draw, the men’s association, the GAA, didn’t want to wait until the next available weekend to have the replay. It emerged that they had made an agreement prior to the start of the championship with our own association, the LGFA, that in order to use Croke Park for the final, we had to forfeit our All-Ireland date in the event of a replay.
“To no surprise and little public outcry, our final was moved. Our fans lost train tickets, hotel bookings and for some, the opportunity to see us play. Several players had to pay significant costs to change their flights for their end of season holiday abroad.
“The following year, 2013, the hurling final ended in a draw again. Immediately, high-profile and well-respected members of the Sunday Game panel said the women would just have to move. This sent an appalling and utterly degrading message to every little girl watching the Sunday Game with her family.
“Furthermore, it highlighted to me and many more female athletes how little we appear to matter to the GAA community. The general argument was that of ownership; the pitch is the men’s so they can do with it what they like.”
In June of 2014, Mulcahy travelled to Semple Stadium to support the Cork U21 ladies football team in their All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin. The game had a 12.30pm start, with the Cork-Waterford Munster SHC replay throwing in later that afternoon.
“What initially appeared to be a positive step for equality and integration soon transpired to be a mere token gesture,” she recalls. “The ladies weren’t allowed warm up on the pitch and were instead asked to jog down the road to a separate pitch. Turnstiles were not opened until 10 minutes before throw-in. When we did gain entry and went to the shop for tea, we were told that the tea wasn’t being served until the men’s match.”
More frustrating, though, is that Mulcahy wasn’t the least bit surprised by this latest episode of inequality. She proceeds to tell the story of when a Cork team-mate attended an event where a male inter-county player was also present. He was given a brown envelope for showing his face, the female player a plaque.
Mulcahy, to sharpen her game, often contacted Cork footballer Eoin Cadogan for a one-on-one session. The pair are good friends. She knows the Cork defender will never have to endure what dual stars Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley did last July when an All-Ireland camogie championship match and the Munster ladies football final were scheduled on the same day.
That doesn’t stop her, mind you, painting a detailed picture of what Cadogan’s day would have looked like were he forced to walk in the shoes of Corkery or Buckley.
“The two games are played on the one day because the two associations Eoin represents decided to disagree on who should inconvenience themselves more by moving the date of their respective fixture. So the inconvenience would be all Eoin’s.
“He makes breakfast from whatever is in the cupboard because unlike his female counterparts, he has no nutritional support and follows his own nutritional plan. He dresses himself in last year’s gear because this year’s gear hasn’t yet arrived. He plays his first match in Páirc Uí Rinn. With no shower, he immediately leaves the ground. His partner drives himself and his dual star team-mate 50 minutes up to Mallow to play the Munster football final. Arriving at the second venue, he eats jellies and fruit as a pre-match snack. Regardless of how he feels, he has to play the second match as he and his fellow All Star are the midfield pairing. He plays the full match. They lose. He makes no excuses for his performance. He goes to have a shower but there is no hot water left.
“This happened in 2015, but not to Eoin because neglect of player welfare at this level would not be tolerated in the men’s game.
“Our experiences of what we get back from our sports are so contrasting that it is as if we don’t play the same sport for the same county in the same country.”
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