During my playing days, I often thought about how Ladies Football and camogie would benefit from an organisation representing the needs of players.
Like any athletes without a voice, we frequently encountered challenges and situations which left us frustrated and demoralised.
Issues arising from a lack of communication between the different codes was one of the biggest annoyances.
And so in 2014, the seeds for change were planted with the formation of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association.
We began with some trepidation. It was intimidating to go against the grain, ask for help, gain the support of our peers and earn the respect and cooperation from the governing associations.
Our relatively short journey from then until now developed through a vision shared by many and acted upon by those willing to step up to the plate. Any doubts were quickly overcome with the first-hand knowledge of how much players needed to be heard, respected and supported on and off the field.
It was important for someone to put player welfare before anything else, no matter what the consequences.
Happy, healthy players are good for our sports. What is good for players is good for the sport. Sadly the reverse isn’t always the case.
The WGPA executive committee was established in 2014 made up of football and camogie players — Gemma Begley (Tyrone), Anna Geary (Cork), Kate Kelly (Wexford), Fiona McHale(Mayo), Deirdre Murphy (Clare) and myself — ably steered by our chairwoman, Aoife Lane (Galway).
Although there had never previously been a female player representative body, we were immensely fortunate to have the immediate encouragement and guidance of our male counterparts in the GPA.
Since forming the WGPA we have raised the profile of our athletes, secured sponsorship deals to roll out programmes, carried out extensive surveys of player welfare throughout the country and created a free anonymous helpline for all players to receive support should they require it.
Members have benefited from scholarship opportunities as well as availing of the opportunity to enrich their leadership qualities by partaking in the ‘Madden Leadership programme’.
One of the most significant breakthroughs which was spearheaded by Deirdre Murphy relates to a government grant which has made available to inter-county teams.
Each inter-county squad will now receive a collective grant of €8,500 which will be ring-fenced for three specific areas.
Injury prevention and medical cover. This covers injury screening, mobility training and physiotherapy cover.
Maximising player and team performance. This relates to strength and conditioning programmes, technical coaching, performance analysis, nutrition advice and sports psychology.
Access to specialist training facilities.
Although many county boards struggle to cover basic costs such as buses, training kits, food, pitch hire and other travel expenses, this money cannot be used for such purposes.
Instead, the objective of this grant will be to help enhance each player’s preparations so they can reach their potential.
This small figure is the first step towards improving what is available to our players and will help bridge the huge gap between male and female inter-county athletes.
Since the concept and initial meetings, the WGPA has come a long way.
This has been in part due to the generous support and respect we have received from our male counterparts which has proven invaluable and certainly very humbling.
Last month, we were invited to avail of a wonderful opportunity to join the GPA in New York to launch a campaign as well as gain financial support to develop our programmes.
We were welcomed with genuine warmth and enthusiasm for our sports and what we do. Throughout the event, we were valued and respected in a way I am not accustomed to here in Ireland.
The entire experience left me incredibly optimistic for the future of our sports.
The main gala event was held at The Plaza Hotel near Central Park. It was here for the first time that I have ever seen all four All-Ireland senior trophies — Sam Maguire, Liam MacCarthy, Brendan Martin and the O’Duffy Cup — together.
It was wonderfully encouraging to see our four most cherished Irish sporting prizes in the same place, each accompanied by a member of this year’s winning All-Ireland teams.
Looking at the four trophies, and the players, standing side by side I felt huge pride in what it means to be part of the fabric of Gaelic sport. I felt for the first time that we were respected and on a level standing with the male players.
My former team-mate, Bríd Stack, represented Cork and carried the Brendan Martin Cup while Kilkenny’s Collette Dormer accompanied the O’Duffy Cup. They were joined on stage by Denis Bastick of Dublin and Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning captain Brendan Maher. It proved a great experience for fans of the GAA in New York, something which Irish fans should have the opportunity to experience every year.
I had the privilege of hosting a question and answer session with the four players. It was interesting to observe how both Brendan and Denis reiterated many of the points made by Bríd and Colette.
Indeed much of what was said over the course of the event overlapped or was repeated, which showed we all share the same aspirations and respect for Gaelic sport and have more much more in common than things that divide us.
I would very much love for our players to see more occasions like this here in Ireland, and abroad, where the stage represents the entire family of the GAA. I am grateful for the GPA’s support of our endeavours and how they have helped with the development of the WGPA.
Our association has now been recognised by both the LGFA and Camogie Associations in recent months and I hope we can facilitate more cooperation through stronger communication in the coming years. We are all stronger together.
Positive change can always be achieved. It does require a few to step forward, lead the way and give a reason for others to follow.
But with strength in numbers we have the potential to go a very long way.
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