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Top female GAA player weighs into sexism row over competition prizes

By John Campbell

Published 24/07/2015

Catherine McGourty won the women’s Poc Fada contest
Catherine McGourty won the women’s Poc Fada contest
Tyrone's Gemma Begley

One of Ulster's top female sporting personalities is urging the GAA to "absorb lessons" from the furore surrounding the recent Poc Fada competition.

The event, which was staged over Hen Mountain near Hilltown, was won by Down player Catherine McGourty, who subsequently took issue with the fact that she was only awarded a medal while the men's winner, Paddy McKillion (Tyrone) received the bonus of a trophy and a skiing holiday.

Ms McGourty claimed that "an injustice had been done" and said: "I think with the establishment of the Women's Gaelic Players' Association at the start of this year, they are there to make sure things are done right for women in sport, in particular ladies' football and camogie."

Tyrone's Gemma Begley, who has been a member of her county's ladies football team for several years and sits on the executive of the Women's Association, believes the affair highlights the "demeaning" manner in which women can be treated within the GAA.

"I myself would have had issues with accepting the prize in all the circumstances," said Carrickmore club member Begley. "I don't think what happened is acceptable and I would have every sympathy with Catherine McGourty. I think the whole thing is demeaning.

"I believe that the GAA has to absorb lessons going forward and there has to be a better effort made to treat women who play sports under the GAA banner more fairly.

"Obviously the recently formed women's body is very concerned about all matters pertaining to women's welfare within the association and this is certainly an issue which leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

"We as a players' body are not making any exorbitant demands - indeed, some of our targets could be said to be basic - but we obviously would like to see more respect accorded to female participants when it comes to things like awards and prizes."

It was after the provincial Gaelic Life publication stepped in to provide Ms McGourty with a £500 holiday voucher for a destination of her choice after conducting an online poll posing the question: "Is gender inequality still an issue in Gaelic Games?" that her claim she had been discriminated against came into much sharper focus.

Some 500 people responded to the poll, with 93% agreeing gender inequality is rife within the country's biggest sporting body.

But Ulster Council secretary Danny Murphy strongly denied this is the case.

"The fact of the matter is that the GAA carries no bias against anyone on the grounds of gender, religion, class or colour," Murphy said. "It is very much a family-orientated body and as such respects the rights of the individual.

"We respect the right of everyone to participate in our games . "

He added: "In this particular instance, the Poc Fada na hEireann contest is staged annually by the GAA at national level and has been held for many years.

"The ladies Poc Fada is overseen by the Camogie Association and the award for the winner is provided by this body. They are two distinct competitions and obviously both have their own appeal.

"The Camogie Association along with the Ladies Football, Handball and Rounders bodies are component parts of the overall GAA and as such are not most certainly biased or sexist in any way."

"The prizes awarded for the Poc Fada at national level and for the ladies event are bestowed by the bodies which oversee them and in the case of the ladies event it is the Camogie Association."

The GAA traditionally hands out medals as tangible rewards to mark achievements in all sports under its umbrella, but from time to time sponsors provide additional prizes.

Mr Murphy added: "There has certainly never been any bias on the part of the GAA in marking the achievements of its competitors in what is a time-honoured fashion.

"In this particular situation, tradition was adhered to and I think when all the facts are taken on board, it will show that this is the case."

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