IT has taken some time to manifest itself, but ladies football and camogie are finally being hit by the same unemployment and emigration epidemic which has had such a negative impact on their male counterparts in the GAA.
It was estimated recently that 250 male players were being lost by the Association every month, but a lower age profile and statistics claiming twice as many men as women opt to emigrate had, to some extent, sheltered the women’s games from the economic decline.
Up to a point, anyway.
“You see it more at club level than you do at county,” said Cork ladies football captain Amy O’Shea yesterday. “A lot of the county players are still in college and things like that. As well as that, you look at any teamsheet now and there is an amount of teachers and physios.
“It is going to depend on what the future holds for the likes of teachers and physios. It will definitely be a hurdle at club level. Between this year and last year at club level we have lost four or five girls to emigration and travelling.”
That is a significant number for a small club like O’Shea’s Inch Rovers and similar stories are emerging around the country. Roscommon’s Four Roads have lost four players who won them a first All-Ireland Junior Camogie title last November.
Neither are counties immune. The Laois team to face O’Shea’s Cork side in the NFL Division One final at Parnell Park on Saturday will be short three key players from the side that reached last season’s Leinster decider and All-Ireland semi-final.
“Trish Fogarty took a year out from college to go travelling, but Lorraine Muckian and Aileen O’Loughlin went looking for work so it is hitting inter-county, club, everyone,” said Joe Higgins, the former All Star defender and current Laois ladies manager.
These concerns are shared by the Camogie Association. Officials have noted a significant increase in activity among clubs in Australia and the US although there has not yet been a major surge in transfer requests.
While worrying, the trend is not as alarming as that facing the GAA and there will be plenty of talent still on view in the capital this Saturday when the Division One, Two and Three ladies finals are played in the Donnycarney venue.
The main decider will see the Leinster side looking to pull off what would be a major shock against a county aiming for its sixth title in seven years and one eager to make up for the unexpected loss of its All-Ireland title last summer.
Higgins has performed a minor miracle in steering his Laois side to this juncture given the loss of the three players listed above and the fact that there are anything up to 18 players playing this year who weren’t last season.
The St Joseph’s clubman is just 32 and has already been diagnosed with arthritis in his hips, both of which will need to be replaced by the time he is 40.
But if he has any regrets they centre on Laois’ inability to win more than one Leinster title during his career.
It was a poor return for a team of such talent and Higgins, who showed little discomfort when sidestepping a question about managing the county’s men one day, believes it is a lesson worth heeding this week.
“Definitely. I would be trying to portray to the girls my own experiences. You don’t get to finals that often and sometimes they don’t work out the way you want them to. In 2003 we went to Australia on the International Rules and (Offaly’s) Cathal Daly was there too.
“I played a Leinster minor final the day he played a senior final in 97 and he thought from then on that they were going to be in one every year but it just doesn’t work out that way. You would be trying to put that across to the girls.”
* Bord Gais Energy NFL finals, Parnell Park, Saturday: Division 1: Cork v Laois, 5.15pm.Division 2: Dublin v Meath, 3.30pm Division 3: Clare v Fermanagh, 1.45pm.
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