Joan O’Flynn: Learning a lot from a coin toss

It might be receding in the rear view mirror now, but Joan O’Flynn hasn’t yet forgotten the controversy which engulfed the sport.

Earlier this summer there was uproar when the camogie players of Dublin and Clare were facing a coin-toss to decide who’d progress to the All-Ireland senior quarter-final.

Eventually the Camogie Association offered a play-off game instead and everyone moved on, but O’Flynn, the Camogie Association Ard Stiúrthóír, says lessons were learned all round.

“Obviously it arose out of a concern to address the impact on club fixtures of intercounty games in the previous year. We had 11 play-off games then, which uses a lot of dates that might be used for club games.

“We learned a lot from it. I learned a lot myself. We have to decide whether we want to continue having play-offs, and, if we don’t, to decide what’s a more robust tie-breaker system, whether there should be more distinctions made across the intercounty competitions and so on. Next month we’ll have a workshop with county administrators and secretaries and obviously we’ll take stock of this year and learn from this season — and hopefully get a stronger buy-in as well.

“Whether it was through lack of communication, lack of awareness or just not full buy-in about the process that was there, we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

“It’s not in anyone’s interest that that should arise again though — without being smart about it — it was great to see such public interest, in terms of people having strong views on it.

“It’s reassuring that they value the game and that we learn from it, too.”

The Camogie Association was held to a high standard in the controversy, which is how O’Flynn likes it.

“I wouldn’t crib about that. We want to uphold and promote high standards so we need to be robust enough to stand up to that as well.

“Certainly there might be more public interest now in the game. It was the first time in a long while that camogie was in the eye of the storm, but we’d prefer if it was for good reasons.

“But every sports administration can do things better, and that’s what we’d be hoping for as well.”

She says the sport is at a crossroads now: “We’re coming to the end of our five-year plan, which commenced in 2010.

“That cycle’s complete, and there has been strong growth at several levels of the game: Coaching and playing standards have improved dramatically — we had our highest number of coaches ever involved in the game last year, which proves that people are interested in coaching education, and that’ll eventually feed into player improvement.

“We have had ongoing club growth, too. For instance, in Cork, Midleton and Castlemartyr would be regarded as hurling strongholds, but they hadn’t camogie clubs until now. So it shows that even in strong GAA counties there’s potential for growth. The mission to expand the game to other counties is very important — we have a vision of giving every girl the opportunity to play camogie as a young child, which hopefully will be the cornerstone of expanding adult club growth.

“We’ll launch a new development plan at our Congress in 2016, and the consultation process around that has just started. That will give people at all levels in the game, and the wider public, to have a say in the future of the game in Ireland. That’s very important in the context of women’s sport in Ireland and camogie, obviously, in particular.”

The consultation process will be open to the public. “The week after the All-Ireland final we’ll be putting up an online survey on our website (camogie.ie). There’ll be regional meetings and a national consultation as well, so there’s an open opportunity for people to have an input into the development of the game, on where it might be both in the next two-three years as well as 10, 20 years into the future.”

O’Flynn feels women’s sport is on the rise generally, but that this comes with challenges.

“One issue for us is that the GAA is the benchmark we’re compared to, but people overlook the differences. The revenue the GAA has is massive compared to ours. Our turnover was €250,000, and now it’s €1.5m. It’s a fivefold increase, but it’s nothing compared to the €29m the GAA gets just from gate receipts.

“There’s been a sea change in attitudes to women’s sport, but that still has to be planned. There’s a long way to go yet. We’re doing that in camogie, but there are bigger challenges for governing bodies in all women’s sports to try to have perhaps a shared view of how women’s sport can become stronger. There’s obviously a competition between us for hearts and minds but we could also work across codes to improve the position of women’s sports, to address some of the societal issues involved there which are bigger than any of the sports individually.”

That co-operation is ongoing: “There is some work going on in relation to that, and there are some international models for it — say in Canada and the UK. Those informal networks are going on and I’d be hopeful that in the next 18 months or so those would consolidate into an actual action plan across governing bodies. The potential for women’s sport is seriously untapped as yet, and there’s room for co-operation around that.

“Other areas which might be open to co-operation include promotion, commercial partnerships, aspects of the physiological approach which are particular to women — there are plenty of areas around where there are opportunities to do more.”

Then there’s this weekend. The Cork native is looking forward to Croke Park tomorrow. “We have six different counties involved, which is great — Laois and Roscommon play at noon in the premier junior. Laois are coming back for their third year in a row and will be particularly hungry, but it’s the same for Roscommon. In the intermediate game, Waterford and Kildare are both looking for a first title at that level. They have very strong players, both sides, with plenty of third level experience, and in Waterford’s case a lot of them are coming through a strong underage set-up.

“In the senior game results have shown that Cork and Galway, the finalists, are the two best teams in the country. In the last season Galway have beaten Cork in the first round of the championship and the league, so there’s a rivalry there. The carrot for Cork, apart from winning, is to get to the top of the roll of honour alongside Dublin, while Galway draw on a lot of hurling support, so after last weekend they’d be keen on a win.

“But obviously the big prize is the O’Duffy Cup itself.”

Tickets are available to purchase from www.tickets.ie (€5 discount on adult tickets) or on the day from the GAA Ticket Office on Gill’s Corner, North Circular Rd, and GAA Ticket Van outside the Hogan Stand entrance: Adults €30; u16s €5. Students/OAPs, purchase adult ticket and get a refund on the day of €10 with valid ID.


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