AT the upcoming Kilmaley GAA club AGM, the hurling club will formally acknowledge that the parish’s camogie club will have equal rights to the local GAA field, subject to “occasional negotiation”.
In the view of Kilmaley clubman and Clare Camogie County Board treasurer, Michael Maher, this development will be a significant step forward for ladies’ sports in Clare.
Maher believes that inequality is rampant within the GAA and that ladies’ sports are not adequately aided by the GAA at either local or national level. He is adamant that unless the GAA lends a helping hand to ladies’ football and camogie, the very existence of the ladies’ sports in this county could be threatened. The wording of the proposed amendment to the Kilmaley GAA club constitution took more than 12 months to put together.
“It was not easy to come up with that type of wording but I think that’s as good as what you can do. It’s hugely important. Nationally and at county board levels in all counties, they have grappled with trying to come up with a formula and so far nothing has happened,” Maher told The Clare Champion.
Plans to properly integrate ladies’ sports with the GAA were put in place earlier this decade but Michael Maher says that while money was spent and people talked the talk, the initiative ran aground.
“Former GAA president Seán Kelly started this integration process in 2002 and it finished in early 2009. The curtains came down on it. There’s another programme supposed to be in the pipeline in the next couple of weeks. But the problem is there is nobody responsible for it,” he said.
Ironically, Michael Maher was appointed Clare GAA County Board integration officer some years ago but nothing has happened at local level either.
“It has finished up. It’s non-existent at the minute. Nothing came of it,” he noted. Maher maintains that GAA clubs in Northern Ireland have successfully integrated.
“It looks to have worked in the North of Ireland. I think their structures up there are a lot better. They have better facilities and the bottom line is that you have equality. If you haven’t some resemblance of equality, it’s not going to work,” he claimed.
Maher is certain integration in Clare is virtually non-existent.
“In most clubs there isn’t equality. You can see what happened with the various incidents recently where you had the civic reception for the county minor hurlers but none for the camogie. There wasn’t an eye batted. One crowd blamed the other,” he recalled.
Michael Maher also maintained that plans to present the county minor camogie and hurling teams, both of whom won their respective Munster championships, with their medals on the same night, have met with opposition.
“Pockets of people, for their own vested interests, didn’t want it to happen. As far as I was concerned it would have been an opportunity to cater for GAA people. I think it’s an opportunity missed and it’s sending out all the wrong messages,” he said.
Maher did acknowledge, however, that camogie and ladies’ football in Clare, at club and county level, have proven quite competitive in recent years. He is fearful though for its long-term welfare if proper integration isn’t achieved.
“I think we have a huge opportunity in Clare, with the way ladies’ football and camogie are going, to move forward. With the success that both codes have, there’s a huge possibility that they’ll make the break through,” he predicted.
Lack of access to playing and training facilities is an annual concern for ladies’ sports. When plans to develop a GAA centre in Tulla were revealed about three years ago, it was suggested that ladies’ football and camogie would be allocated a field apiece.
“There is no talk about it presently. The county council has made a commitment for a camogie pitch in Doora but there’s a lot of tidying up to be done with that,” he noted.
Maher also points out that ladies’ clubs often have to compete with their own local GAA club when they are fundraising.
“They way camogie and ladies’ football in Clare are structured, they are on a very slippery slope. A lot of their fundraising is competing with GAA fundraising. I think if clubs could ensure that equality was enshrined in their constitution, it would be a great step forward,” he said.
“Let nobody tell me that we’re looking after the girls. If we are, I’ll be the first to put up my hand and say I was wrong. An awful lot of people don’t really know how camogie and ladies’ football work. They depend on the facilities of the GAA at club and county level to get by. But they’re separate when it comes to funding. How can you discriminate if you have a son or daughter and both of them are on the club team?” Maher asked.
He also expressed his anger that the GPA campaign for GAA players’ welfare, without mention of female sports people.
“Not a word about the camogie players or lady footballers. There wasn’t one word from the Sports Council or from anybody. I believe that if any player or any individual brought an equality case against the GAA, they’d win their case,” he said.
If integration structures were put in place, Maher is confident that GAA clubs would also benefit.
“GAA clubs are even struggling themselves because they haven’t got the expertise or they haven’t tapped into it. For all types of reasons, women are a lot better at organising. Anybody will tell you that. They’re experts in that area,” he revealed.
“I think a lot of the reason why GAA clubs have struggled is because they haven’t catered for ladies’ football or camogie. And I think until the ethos is there that you’re catering for GAA families, you’re going no place,” Michael Maher added.