Women and the underprivileged are second class citizens in Irish sport
When women's sport makes national news in Ireland it's either something really good or something really bad.
There is very little room for those stories that lie somewhere in the middle.
If a women's sports story breaks into the national consciousness it's either a Katie Taylor fight, a Puskas nominated strike from Stephanie Roche or a record setting Ladies Football All-Ireland final.
If it's in the news for less appealing reasons, it's because an Irish international women's team has asked for their own tracksuits, an international rugby team has asked for a full-time coach or a nine-time camogie All Star has asked for the Camogie Association, the GAA and Croke Park to move All-Ireland Senior & Intermediate Club Championship Finals from Clones to Croke Park.
Women's sport, outside of the Ronda Rouseys, the Katie Taylors and the Maria Sharapovas of this world, is constantly fighting for attention, coverage, and most dishearteningly, basic respect.
In Nike's recent 'Nothing Beats a Londoner' advert a football player standing at the side of an astroturf pitch summarises the bleakness of the situation for the majority of female athletes:
"I've got to get to the biggest game of my life, score a banger right in the top bins just to get noticed."
I'm sure Stephanie Roche can relate to that sentiment, it's the primary reason why she is known in Ireland, but how many more females can relate to Kate Kelly?
Its the Dream for All players to play in Croke Park, especially the club players!! Apart from the disappointment that these games have been postponed twice, I think this fixture should be revisited & played in Croke Park! @OfficialCamogie @officialgaa @CrokePark #supporthersport
— Kate Kelly (@katekelly05) March 21, 2018
This week, a situation has developed were the Camogie Association were told that Croke Park would be unavailable for the All-Ireland Senior & Intermediate Club Championships Finals, despite the fact that there are no matches scheduled at headquarters for Saturday, March 24.
The All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship final replay between Cuala and Na Piarsaigh has also been moved to O'Moore Park, Laois, while the All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Club Championship final between Athenry and Johnstownbridge, and the All-Ireland Senior Camogie Club Championship final between Sarsfields and Slaughtneil, have both been moved to Clones as part of a double header.
The reasoning? Croke Park is unavailable for the day as stadium officials look to protect the quality of the pitch as three games on a Saturday, followed by a double header on a Sunday, would apparently put too much strain on the playing surface.
Their reasons may be valid, maybe five games in two days after two periods of heavy snowfall - within the same month - can do irreparable damage to a playing surface, but the optics are once again horrible for those concerned.
In a climate were women's teams feel they are treated unfairly in comparison to men's teams, and in the same climate were club players feel they are overlooked in comparison to intercounty players, you have a situation were a ladies club final is being moved to protect the surface for a men's intercounty national league hurling quarter-final and the final round of the men's intercounty national football league, two games that both involve Dublin, whom, a significant amount of people are already convinced are given preferential treatment by the GAA.
It's a triple whammy, and while I don't have a great knowledge of how much matches a playing surface can withstand in light of two significant bouts of snowfall, I do have a better understanding of how people react to major decisions by sporting organisations.
One of the most popular stories on this website yesterday was Kelly calling for the All-Ireland club finals to be moved back to Croke Park, but 6,123 people attended last year's club final between Slaughtneil and Sarsfields, a record attendance for a Camogie club All-Ireland final.
By comparison, Dublin have brought more than 45,000 people through the turnstiles of Croke Park in their last two national football league games against Donegal and Kerry.
Throw a Dublin v Tipperary quarter-final on top of a Dublin football game and which teams do you think an organisation that - opened their games up to Sky Sports, brought in the Super 8s and extended the hurling championship to a round robin knockout stage - would favour?
Of course, part of the problem here is that the GAA Masters Fixtures plan did not account for two heavy bouts of snow in the same month, in fact, they left almost no room for error, but another part of the problem is that women's players are once again left feeling alienated and overlooked by the organisations that they represent.
It’s absolutely disgraceful that of the 2 whole times a year a Camogie player is guaranteed to play in @CrokePark on All Ireland Final day and it’s been taken away from them #club #stepbackwards surely it can be refixed again??
— deirdre codd (@deedocod) March 21, 2018
I’ve just heard the GAA are protecting the pitch!!! Well God forbid 2 Camogie matches would destroy it...@AIB_GAA Are ye happy!! Because this is a disgrace
— Clubs Are Us (@ClubsAreUs) March 21, 2018
It seems Croke Park can throw out a conference on Sunday for the men's game? Why not do the same for Camogie? #supporthersport my arse @NoelHolohan @CrokePark @OfficialCamogie @TheBridgeCamogs @officialgaa @siobhanhurl
— Louise Codd (@LouiseCodd) March 21, 2018
Very disappointed to hear club camogie finals are refixed for Clones. Clones 🤔🙄. It’s disrespectful to all the camogie players who’ve trained so hard to reach the pinnacle to have it replayed in Clones. Appreciate Croker isn’t available but Clones. Such a pity @OfficialCamogie
— Aislinn (@aislinncon) March 21, 2018
Within the last year, the three biggest sporting organisations in the country have left their female players feeling like second class citizens at some point, which is being generous to the FAI given that PFAI solicitor Stuart Gilhooly actually referred to the Association's treatment of the women's team last year as 'fifth class citizens' and 'the dirt on the FAI’s shoe'.
The IRFU would never offer a part-time coaching role to the head coach of the men's national team and there's not a hope in high hell that the GAA would consider relocating two Dublin games to accommodate some club finals.
The reality is numbers matter. The GAA can attract more fans, reporters and viewers to Croke Park for a Dublin double header than they can for two Camogie club finals or a club hurling final replay.
The Irish women's team were a curtain raiser for the Ireland U20's in Coventry last Friday night. The men's team played in front of a sold out Twickenham in London the next day.
The Irish women's football team asked for the right to keep their own tracksuits. A source within the FAI told me last year that it's 'carte blanche' for the men's senior team. 'They are given whatever they want when they want'.
The massive discrepancy between men's and women's teams leads to situations where players share tracksuits, where they have their games relocated from Croke Park to Clones and where their future coach was once sought on a part-time basis.
Nothing changes. But women like Kelly, the entire Irish women's team that revolted against the FAI, and every Irish rugby player that participated in the 'Legacy' wristband campaign must be commended for standing up and speaking out.
The Legacy campaign did incite a change from the IRFU. The women's public protest did put the FAI in a position were they had to concede. Kelly and others may put pressure on the GAA, Camogie Association and Croke Park to refix the camogie finals.
But some things don't change.
As bad as Shane Ross has been as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, whether it's something small like confusing Rob and Dave Kearney, or something big like admitting that Pat Hickey ‘ate him for breakfast’ at their initial meeting about the OCI ticket scandal, his boasting about securing a €150,000 grant for Wesley College in Dublin to resurface their hockey pitch (Wesley, of course, a private school that has four rugby pitches, one floodlit rugby grid, one soccer pitch, two full size Hockey astro-turf pitches, two-mini Hockey pitches, two full size hockey grit pitches, 16 Tennis courts on the hockey pitches during the summer season, two cricket pitches during the summer season, two outdoor basketball courts, one gymnasium, one sports hall and athletics track and field facilities) is absurd and a classic example of a politician playing up to voters in their own constituency.
Delighted to confirm that @wesleycollege has been granted €150,000 as part of Sports Capital Programme. The funding will ensure the resurfacing of the hockey pitch and will benefit the school as well as @YMCAHC pic.twitter.com/HlPSK0mUoA
— Shane Ross (@Ross_Shane1) March 9, 2018
Meanwhile, while Wesley look to upgrade their facilities, 30 public schools were turned down in the grants process for the Sports Capital programme and there's not one single sports pitch in Dublin's south inner city, an area that has 10 primary schools and serves 50,000 people.
Men's sport is given preference over women's sport, that much is clear. A bumbling minister boasts about a private school in his own constituency receiving a €150,000 grant while 10km's up the road there's not a full size sports pitch in sight.
Inequality impacts upon both gender and class, but in a sporting context at least, only those in positions of power really have the ability to make change.
Loud voices can incite change, and media coverage can put pressure on those organisations to alter their stance, but ultimately, this is 2018 and not 1918.
If these attitudes haven't changed by now, will they ever?