2018 was a fantastic year for women’s sport in Ireland, media coverage improved some what, attendance records were broken, new supporters were garnered for a multitude of sports, there was a swell in the feel good factor surrounding ladies sport and a large number of companies awoke to the serious marketability of female athletes in Ireland.
Even though women’s sport is on the crest of wave and enjoying a surge in popularity there is still plenty of room for improvement in 2019 across all sectors and in terms of Ladies Football and Camogie that improvement begins with the relative associations.
On All Ireland Finals day Ladies football once again smashed the record for the highest attendance at a female sports event in Europe with 50,141 supporters coming through the Croke Park gates.
There were 21,453 fans in Croke Park for the All Ireland Camogie Finals, the attendance numbers at both events are to be applauded but they are just one days attendance for each sport and both associations can’t just rely on big crowds for just one day out of a nine month inter-county season.
A quick look through the attendance figures at league, provincial and championship games outside of the two blue ribboned days in both ladies football and camogie gives a stark reminder of how much work is still to be done with the attendance at the majority of those games barely registering a three figure total.
The interest is certainly there among supporters, but now more than ever both associations need to strike while the iron is hot and seriously market all of their competitions, particularly their respective leagues which suffer the most from low attendances.
This is not a pop at either association as this writer knows first hand how much trojan work is done on a daily basis by everyone who is involved with the LGFA and Camogie Association, but as in every walk of life there is always room to improve.
The introduction of double headers with men’s games during last seasons league was certainly a big step in the right direction and both the LGFA and the Camogie Association need to secure these as the norm, not just in the league but also in the championship outside of their respective All Ireland Final days.
That would not only help increase attendance and exposure of their games but also alleviate their on going problems in securing suitable grounds to host matches.
Media coverage of ladies football and camogie has improved over the last number of years but it’s still nowhere near at the level both sports rightly deserves.
Now in fairness the coverage of ladies football by TG4 has been excellent and they should be applauded for the work they have done to promote the game.
Also the coverage from FM104 and Dublin City FM of both ladies football and camogie in the capital throughout the season is top notch and there are a number of radio stations and local newspapers around the country who do excellent work.
But there are a number of mainstream media outlets across different mediums who’s coverage of both sports leaves a lot to be desired until the later stages of the championship and that’s where the most improvement is required.
Now of course there is a catch 22 situation here and that is that these media outlets first and foremost will look at their bottom line and to justify increased coverage, send reporters to matches and free up column inches they will have to be convinced that there is an audience for the games.
It will probably take increased attendances at games throughout the year to change their thinking, so 2019 needs to see more bums on seats not just in Croke Park in September but around the country week in and week out.
Of course coverage is one thing but it has to be quality coverage and this is where there is a drastic difference between the media coverage of men’s and women’s sports.
While male football and hurling players are questioned about training, tactics, the opposition and so on, at ladies football and camogie media events the journalists sent along seem to have done little or no research and topics tend to be less about the upcoming game and turn more towards the players relationships, particularly if they happen to be involved with a male player.
In an interview just before Christmas on Sunday Sport on RTÉ Radio One, Dublin’s two time All Ireland winner and All Star forward Niamh McEvoy spoke about the need for improvement in the type of questions being asked in interviews.
“I think there is room for improvement in terms of topics being covered. I would notice that the men in people’s lives are getting covered in topics. Which I have no problem with. My boyfriend (Dean Rock) plays a high level of sport.
“Every single time I do an interview, it’s a question in the interview. Which is not a problem, he would be someone I’m extremely proud of and I’m really, really happy with our relationship.
“But maybe in the week out from an All-Ireland final, it’s maybe not appropriate.”
“I play against really good players and with really good players and I really enjoy when the person who is interviewing you has done their research and they ask you things about the game.
“I feel like I have an insight that I could share with people. It’s a growing sport and people want to hear about it. And to help it continue to grow I don’t think these are the stories that should be covered three days before the All-Ireland final.”
Another bugbear is the lack of critical analysis of both ladies football and camogie games in the media which tend to be of the bland variety with pundits and reporters afraid to criticise or give an honest opinion on a game or the performance of teams or individuals.
Male teams in football and hurling have their games consistently forensically taken apart and debated on TV, radio and in the print and online media and poor performances by teams and individual players are among the items highlighted, that’s not the case with their female counterparts.
For the future of both sports and to generate proper interest both from supporters and non-converts it’s vital that critical analysis becomes part and parcel of the media coverage of ladies football and camogie.
That may not be welcome from some established players or inter-county managers who are not familiar or comfortable with it.
But it can’t be expected to have increased equality of media coverage without having all elements of it, the days of its all rosy in the garden coverage of women’s sport has to end particularly for the credibility of the sports and to dispel some outdated opinions about women’s sport particularly out two female indigenous games.
In that same interview on Sunday Sport Dublin’s Niamh McEvoy echoed the same sentiments about the bland coverage and the need for critical analysis.
“Sometimes I’ll see a game completely different from how it’s been reported. When people cover women’s sport, they’re maybe not critical when they should be, which is not great either.
“When it’s the men’s game and someone has a ‘mare, they get called up on it. You don’t really see it in the women’s game.
“It happens in men’s sport. Obviously, with social media, the men (in sport) are sometimes treated to trolling and I’m not advocating that at all.
“But a critical analysis from people who are there. Don’t say it’s ‘a great day out for everyone’ but talk about the spectacle and who did what. It will only help promote the game more. Proper interest in what is happening rather than just a great family day out.”
The opportunity is there for 2019 to be the most pivotal year yet for women’s sport in Ireland none more so than in ladies football and camogie where attendance and participation figures continue to rise at a phenomenal rate and sponsors are acutely aware of the huge marketability of players from both codes.
But a seismic shift in the amount of promotion, coverage, exposure and attendance is needed. Campaigns like the excellent 20×20 campaign launched last Autumn with the aim of increasing participation, attendances and media coverage of women’s sport by 20% by the year 2020 will certainly help that goal.
The standard of ladies football and camogie games is very high and they continue to raise the standard of their game year on year and that rise in standards has led to both codes attracting big name sponsors.
But as far as attendances and media coverage is concerned it’s still in it infancy, 2019 can be the year it grows into a blossoming adult but there is a lot of hard work still to be done to reach that stage.
As the saying goes, lots done, but more to do.