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Camogie's surge set to be reflected by a record finals crowd

 

Class act: Jane Adams in action for the Antrim camogie team
Class act: Jane Adams in action for the Antrim camogie team
Finals countdown: this week’s launch of tomorrow’s All-Ireland camogie finals
Jane Adams
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

A bold prediction came from the Camogie Association back in July when they announced they would be hoping for a crowd over 25,000 at tomorrow's finals in Croke Park.

Kilkenny and Galway meet in the senior decider, and the last time the Cats won in 2016, there was a crowd of 20,037, which beat the previous year's attendance by almost 25%.

Now the elusive figure of 25,000 is the one they are chasing, after the ladies' football finals broke the 50,000 mark for their finals last year and hope to maintain next Sunday.

It's not gone unnoticed that sport for women in Ireland is currently 'having a moment'. The rise of attendances at major events involving female Gaelic Games, the Ireland hockey team reaching the World Cup final last August and the mass appeal of the Women's World Cup has led to an explosion of interest.

It's the sort of momentum that the people behind the '20x20 - If she can't see it, she can't be it' campaign dreamt of when they launched last October.

Their aims were ambitious; 20% increase in media coverage of women in sport, 20% increase in female participation and a 20% increase in attendance at women's games and events.

They recruited a number of blue-chip corporate companies such as AIG, Investec, KPMG, Lidl and 3, and the likes of golfers Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire as ambassadors.

For someone like the former legendary Antrim camogie captain Jane Adams - who won an All-Ireland senior club title with O'Donovan Rossa in Belfast - the campaign instantly struck a chord.

"I thought it was a brilliant initiative and whenever I saw it first, I couldn't wait to see it taking off," said Adams.

"Whenever you have wee girls going to matches like that, they are able to see their heroes on the pitch. And not just the best players and the people who are playing, the people who are in the middle of the field, those who are on the sidelines.

"Not only that, I think it is good for young boys to be able to see that girls can play sport, can be good at sport."

For Dr Aoife Lane who chairs the Women's Gaelic Players Association, the 20x20 campaign has been revolutionary.

"I think the notion of the awareness training, the consistent messaging and the branding, the reinforcement. The recruitment of those, all the corporate backers and individual athletes and national governing bodies; that's unheard of. I think that's something that really has to be applauded," she said.

"I believe that when you are in a minority you are stronger together. And sport with women is one of those things. I think it has done that job in terms of when you bring all those facets together and having one strong message.

"That's really admirable, it doesn't happen all the time and it should happen more."

The idea of breaking 50,000 for All-Ireland ladies' football final day pre-dated the 20x20 campaign and was driven hard by those within the superb marketing team of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.

This year they took another step in hosting the All-Ireland semi-finals in Croke Park and broke 10,000 in attendance.

Journalist Cliona Foley is the host of @OffTheBench, an exclusively women's sport podcast. She can explain how the rise of new technology has also been a major platform for promotion of women's sport.

"Minority sport of all kinds had problems getting coverage because there is a lack of space traditionally in newspapers," she said.

"Once phone technology changed, you had such capacity for filling your websites with content of all kinds - written, visual and all types. Highlights and streaming and all those things.

"I also make the point that women in sport don't suffer inequality in swimming or athletics or any of these. It's women's team sports that traditionally don't got the same coverage as men's.

"I always use the analogy of 'do you think you are going to go to an athletics event and for the women's 100 metres you are going to go to the bar, and come back when the men's is on? No, you're not'.

"So you don't see them as inferior because they are women. But in team sports unfortunately, we treat them differently and, also, they don't share the same stage so people have to make choices of what they want to follow.

"With new technology, development on the web, all of these things have given us a capacity to develop our own coverage and to speak to their own audience."

Other elements are helping the rise in popularity. Subtle changes in attitude are almost imperceptible, but growing from the roots up. The outspoken nature of the American women's soccer team and their visible media presence, their willingness to put their equal pay campaign top of the agenda, is changing the world for women's sport.

Sure, they met with some pig-headed resistance and market forces at present will make their ideals difficult to achieve. But never has the idea of women competing in sport been more mainstream.

Jane Adams, for one, would love to be starting out in her sporting life again.

"For 20 years I would wake up every morning and think if I had a match or training that night," she recalled.

"And whatever it was, I genuinely couldn't wait to get up and go about my day to get to a match or training at night. I never thought once that I couldn't be bothered doing it.

"Back in the day when you were a wee bit shy, you might have been slightly embarrassed about it.

"But in my head now, 100% I would have loved it.

"I would have loved to have played in Croke Park in front of the 25,000 that I hope they get (tomorrow) at the finals."

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