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International Women's Day 2016: Aoife Lane is urging women in GAA to make their voices heard

Just over a year on from the formation of the Women's Gaelic Player's Association, there are familiar issues and only a little bit of progress made in the treatment of females in the GAA

By Declan Bogue

When it comes to assessing the place of women within the GAA, nobody is better qualified than Aoife Lane.

Just over a year ago, ladies Gaelic footballers and camogie players united under a single banner of the Women's Gaelic Player's Association. Their priority was to secure the use of pitches and what they would term as 'minimum standards'. Lane was announced as the Chairperson.

Those who wanted to check out her credentials would have been satisfied. A daughter of Galway's multiple All-Ireland hurling winner Noel, she chaired the camogie association's national player welfare committee in the past.

A year on, the issue of treatment endured by some ladies' teams has flared up again. The complaint of Mayo's Sarah Rowe was a familiar one for many at the coalface.

In a recent interview, Rowe said: "With Mayo at the moment, we are training on a pitch in Ballyhaunis where there are only two floodlights and we can barely see to the other side and the pitch is absolutely in a heap."

As for post-match and training food, she added: "It could be sandwiches or fruit or rice cakes, but it's not even anything proper that you should be eating after training. Often we have to arrange our own lifts because we can't afford to get a bus to matches. It's very frustrating."

Asked if that is typical of reports they are hearing back, Lane stated: "I think it's the truth. It's something that needed to be said. The more people that speak up about it and make it known, that it's not something that comes up now and again, more people will believe and accept that there are a lot of challenges for women in the GAA.

"We have to move away from talking about it in the back of the car or in the dressing room after a match. We have to talk about it in ways in which to improve things."

At the heart of it all is a lack of awareness of what goes into being a woman playing sport at this level.

Lane explained: "There is a total misunderstanding of what it is like to be a senior inter-county player. People presume they are getting expenses, but it is very different.

"That awareness and clarity around what it is like is very important. It takes someone like Sarah to be very brave and honest and call it exactly as it is. It's not moaning and groaning, it's the truth, it's the reality.

"It's very important that the message gets out, and that it's from somebody at the coalface, which is the player."

In recent weeks, the launch of the ladies' National League was accompanied by a sparkling new three-year sponsorship by LIDL, who attracted headlines with their 'Ladyball' social media project, along with an impressive televised advertisement.

More importantly, they are pumping €1.5m (£1.15m) into the game in the first year, trickling down from the county game to the grassroots level of schools and clubs.

It also emerged this week that the Camogie Association are seeking a broadcast partner to push their profile, announced by Chief Executive Joan O'Flynn at the launch of their four-year plan.

Sky Sports GAA presenter Rachel Wyse has also said she would "definitely welcome" coverage of ladies' GAA on the satellite broadcaster, though TG4 continue to provide a comprehensive service.

While Lane welcomes such developments, she is mainly concerned with the issues facing teams and players.

"I am trying to build structures and build confidence and competence around players to take these things on," she added.

"Equally, to be up front with county boards and administrators about what we are trying to do.

"It's not like there's loads of money in our game. There isn't. We don't have the same disposable income in our game that you might have in GAA where you have to have these things in place at county level.

"We have to think about how we do that. That's the approach that we are taking to it. We are not shirking from the truth and that's the reality. You don't want players hiding away, you want them to be up front and honest."

Lane believes the Women's GPA are looking for some regularity for venues and basic facilities.

"I suppose the phrase that's used is 'minimum standards' and expectations," she continued.

"That's our end game and what we are trying to build towards.

"I am all for presenting the positive image too. Dublin ladies' footballers and Galway camogie players are just two of lots of small examples around the country of good things.

"But they are probably not all in a huge package, which is maybe what we need to see happen."

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