Lauren Guilfoyle speaks passionately about her frustrations at the recent fixture issues between the LGFA and Camogie Association.
Another year, another fixture issue. What’s that Albert Einstein quote? “Insanity is doing the same
thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. Well, for the fourth summer in a row, we’ve
had the same result.
The unassuming announcement of fixtures, the push to “Raise the Bar”, be a “proper fan”, to support women in sport. Then comes the Twitter backlash – for a day or so.
The long-term result? The hard discussion with yourself to figure out if it’s worth all the effort. Training four and five nights a week, constantly on the phone to two separate management teams, figuring out how to make it work. You do your best to make it work, and then you’re told you need to choose.
This week, the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) and Camogie Association released fixtures for this weekend’s championship action. The collateral damage? Orla O’Dwyer.
At 1 pm Saturday she is expected to line out in the opening round of the Senior Football Championship against Kerry in Nenagh. Later that evening, she captains the Tipperary Senior Camogie team for their 4th round fixture with Offaly at the County Camogie Grounds. Granted, they’re two North Tipperary venues, but that’s a woefully minor positive.
To add fuel to the fire, both the LGFA and Camogie Association released a joint statement to comment on the upcoming clash of both code’s All Ireland Senior semi-finals on August 18th . The statement alludes to both organisations’ commitment to TV scheduling “which aim to help to further promote and grow both sports respectively”.
TG4’s longstanding sponsorship of the All Ireland Football championships has the added bonus of excellent live coverage of games over the past number of years, while RTE have committed to providing coverage of all knockout Camogie championship games this season.
The importance placed on live coverage seems to outweigh the interests of the key stakeholders – the players. Cork currently have two dual players in Libby Coppinger and Hannah Looney and they will most likely be the players directly affected. Cork have won their first three camogie championship games and will claim a semi-final spot, while their big ball counterparts have reached the semi-final stage of the competition every year since 2004, a statistic that does not look like ening, if performances this year are to be taken into consideration.
While it is Tipperary’s first year competing at the senior grade in football, they may also be affected by the fixture clash.
Fixture clashes have become the norm at the height of summer in female Gaelic Games. In 2016, seven players were forced to choose between codes. Despite the Clare Camogie County Board notifying fixture makers of a potential clash in November 2015, the Banner’s four dual players were forced to choose between the Munster Intermediate Ladies Football final, and a round-robin camogie game with Dublin.
The same weekend, Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery lined out against Offaly in a round robin camogie game, before travelling to play Kerry in the Senior Provincial football decider. The Women’s Gaelic Players Association described it as an “unacceptable situation”.
Interestingly, the Camogie Association made moves to avoid fixture clashes in their 2016 Championship calendar, unfortunately, those that benefitted were the soccer players of Ireland and Belgium, as camogie games were fixed for 5:15pm throw-ins to allow supporters catch the Euro 2016 action.
Libby Coppinger was given the cruel task of choosing between an All Ireland Football Quarter Final and Camogie Semi Final, both against Galway, last summer as both games were pencilled in for the same day in Mullingar and Limerick, respectively. Neither association willing to change – once again citing television commitments.
It’s not all negative though, as a compromise doesn’t prove impossible. Coppinger and teammate Hannah Looney enjoyed a successful but busy weekend in June as their Munster Senior Football final win over Kerry on Saturday was followed by a championship victory over Dublin the following afternoon, a fixture clash avoided by a simple request being granted.
Female athletes deserve more than this. Intercounty teams are training better, longer and harder than they ever have before. Preparation, both individually and collectively, is catching up with their male equivalents every year. Sport scientists, physiotherapists, psychologists, statisticians are all being utilised to gain the extra percent in the quest for All Ireland glory. Doubleheaders combining male and female games are on the rise, such is the quality of the action.
The interest in female sport has never been higher. 46,286 people moved through the turnstiles at Croke Park last September for the LGFA’s trio of championship finals – the biggest attendance at a female sporting event in the world in 2018.
20,438 supporters were in attendance as the Rebel’s snatched the O’Duffy Cup back from the claws of the Cats with a devastating injury time Julia White winner two weeks before.
Lidl have pumped €2.5 million into the promotion of Ladies Football over the past three years, making it one of the largest investments in female sport by a single sponsor in Europe. Liberty Insurance announced a three-year extension to their Camogie Championship sponsorship this summer, while Littlewoods Ireland has pushed promotion of the camogie leagues to heights it has never seen – they independently live-streamed the league semi final this year from their own social platforms.
The players are giving it 100%. The sponsors are giving it 100%. The administrators? They are not.
The LGFA and Camogie Association are completely independent organisations, with different presidents and central councils. Attempts at cohesiveness have been made. A 2016 report by the Fixtures Review Committee of the Camogie Association stated this recommendation to Congress in relation to intercounty competition structure:
“That the Camogie Association assesses the feasibility of using the Servasport Competition Management platform currently in operation by the GAA and LGFA. This would allow for co-operation at national level by all codes within the Gaelic games family, potential promotional cross over’s and a shared knowledge of competition management practice.”
In February of this year, the GAA, LGFA and Camogie Associations published a “Draft Memorandum of Understanding” between the three organisations. The memorandum describes “the shared vision of the three organisations for a new overall organisational model within which the games, ideals and aspiration of all three Associations are equally developed and promoted”.
Two separate organisations, both vying to elevate their sports to the next level, continuously screwing over the very core of the sports themselves. Girls want to play for the teams they have dedicated their time to.
Teams want to play with a full panel of players. Supporters want to be able to see the footballers in action and then head along to see the camogie team battle it out in championship too. How much longer will we have to endure the ignorance of both the LGFA and Camogie Association with their blinkers on?
If the communication channels are open, as illustrated by the joint statement released in relation to the upcoming semi-final clash this August, why can’t the same levels of communication be afforded to fixture planning throughout the competitive season?
How much longer will live television coverage be held in higher importance than the opportunity to have Libby Coppinger and Hannah Looney fulfil their right to represent Cork in both codes at the highest level?
The quest to promote sports that disrespect their main stakeholders is secondary, let’s get the basics right first.
Lauren Guilfoyle, Pundit Arena.