By Daragh Ó Conchúir
WITH the inaugural Liberty Insurance All-Stars Camogie match still fresh in the mind from the previous night, Camogie Association President Catherine Neary reflected yesterday on some of the successes of her term, which started in March 2015 and comes to a conclusion next April, when Kathleen Woods will pick up the baton.
How long was the Liberty Insurance Camogie All-Stars Tour an aspiration?
“It was something everybody would have been aware of for a number of years that we wanted to do as an organisation. Certainly from my point of view, it’s all about the game and if it’s all about the game it’s all about the players as well. So it’s another step up that ladder to show we have a fantastic game and players that put so much of their life into our game. This is another small way to acknowledge that. It’s important to get it done and that we continue on and learn from it as it goes on. There is no downside to something like this. It’s about bringing the game out there, not hiding it.”
How have you found the Presidency? Busy?
“I work full time as well so it’s very busy but when you have a passion for something it doesn’t feel like work. There are challenges but I’ll miss it. There are so many opportunities. You get to go to places and meet people that you never would have otherwise. I’ve been in the States, I’ve been in Europe meeting people in the wider Gaelic games family, bringing the games to a wider audience, meeting players that have nothing to do with Ireland, never seen Ireland but had seen the game or worked with someone Irish that was coming up to the club. And it reminds you how much we take for granted when you see some of the hurdles the international community have to clear, travelling five or six hours to play in a blitz because they love it. Without being President of the Camogie Association, I would never have had those opportunities.”
What has been achieved in the last few years?
“One of the big things would have been the Development Plan, to have something different but to be very clear where we want to go. That’s why it’s split the way it is. It’s around working together and moving together. It’s a true saying, if we come together, we’re stronger. We wanted to make sure we focussed on the right areas. Our players, absolutely, but also around our volunteers. Next year we’ll have a rollout of our training programmes for our volunteers, to make sure they are supported and feel supported, have someone to talk to, but also they know what their role is. It’s about encouraging other people to get involved because no more than the players and managers have become so professional, we need to have that off the field as well. If the structures around the players aren’t right, it’s hard for the game to reach its full potential.
“We looked at continuing the growth of the game. Certainly, the Liberty Insurance Camogie All-Stars Tour is part of that. So too was having a Soaring Stars team for the first time. Up to then it was three players picked. In my head I was thinking, ‘When is a goalkeeper ever going to be selected?’ because it’s so competitive at Junior and Intermediate level. And while it’s a team sport, I think it’s important to recognise the individual too within that.
“We are working with the GAA in coming together and hopefully there’ll be a bit more on that before I finish. We have a very good relationship and work well together. I would hope that with the change in the hurling structures, we will see a lot more double-headers and I think that’s important because there is an affinity between hurling and camogie.
“We have issued our concussion guidelines too in the last couple of years and have a lot more work to do in that area. That’s an area we have worked closely with the GAA on as they have much greater access to the expertise. I don’t believe in duplicating things. If the expertise is there, use it. On child welfare, all the organisations are working together under one group too.”
The integration process is an arduous one?
“The whole Gaelic games family, we talk and meet on a regular basis and have discussions about what we have in common. There can be too much focus on what’s different. All the associations signed off on One Club guidelines and that was very important. It’s not that everybody has to do it but there is a structure, a best practice around how to do it. My own belief is that we will get there and it will become more formalised in time. You can’t force these things, you need a bit of patience. But the GAA have been very supportive, Aogán Ó Fearghail (GAA President) and Páraic Duffy (GAA Director General) have been very good. The will is there. I can see that at club and county level. I’m very fortunate to be from Kilkenny where it’s always been a natural thing to support Camogie. Ned Quinn and all his colleagues were always that way.”
The profile is definitely increasing.
“It’s wonderful for the people to come and see the games but you want to grow your audience and the best way to do that is through the media. It’s been great to have the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals televised live by RTÉ and the feedback was very positive. Even on a local level, the promotion and support of the games has been very good and we want to grow that more. Having games broadcast is important because it encourages girls and you want to have your major players as household names and have young girls looking up to Gemma O’Connor and Anne Dalton, the way it is with the hurlers and footballers. Liberty Insurance have been very good throughout their sponsorship of our Championships and the All-Stars in helping that happen.”
What’s on the wish list?
“There’s a couple of things that will hopefully come up but I’m not going to spoil the surprise now! A couple of things might happen after I’m gone but we’ve all benefited in that way from the work done by our predecessors. We want to get more media publicity, and support our clubs, make sure our coaching is innovative and up to date. Player welfare is a big issue as well and we’ll look to improve on those areas.
You mentioned player welfare. What’s the relationship like with the WGPA?
“We need to formalise that maybe a little bit more but the players’ player award we run jointly with them has worked well. That the players vote from the list of nominees makes it mean a little more because it comes from their peers. I think it’s about working together with the WGPA because we all want the same thing. For us, it can’t all be about the elite players because they are just a percentage but what you do for the elite players you need to do for the club players too and make sure it cascades down. I think it’s good to have the WGPA as it’s important for the players to have a voice.”
So what is the underlying message?
“What we want to do as an organisation is to give every girl a chance to play. We bring a lot to the table, a professionalism and a passion. And everyone is welcome. There’s always a space and we’ll always find something for somebody. We’re about the broad community. We want everybody to be a part of it.”