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Declan Bogue: The 20x20 movement should exert serious pressure to merge Gaelic games

Sticking around: presenter Aoife Ní Chaiside with Katie Mullan, captain of the Irish hockey team, in the BBC NI programme
Sticking around: presenter Aoife Ní Chaiside with Katie Mullan, captain of the Irish hockey team, in the BBC NI programme
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

There was a moment in the middle of BBC NI's 'Mná Spóirt: Croí is Anam' (Women in Sport: Heart and Soul) on Monday night when we arrived at a place of great significance.

The show's host, Slaughtneil and Derry camogie player Aoife Ní Chaiside, was talking to the legendary Antrim camog Jane Adams, who captained her club O'Donovan Rossa to become the first Ulster side to win an All-Ireland Club title.

The topic was of stereotypes in sport and Adams made the point that sexual orientation should not come into consideration, or be attached in any way to notions of gender that continue to restrict women in sport.

Adams recounted her experience of coming out to her parents and her team-mates, adding: "They just didn't see me as being any different from them."

A wonderful player, she is now a busy youth coach with her club and a role model. That she could discuss what for some would be such a sensitive topic in this manner was public service broadcasting at its finest.

There were lessons elsewhere, on the camaraderie that sport brings. Once upon a time before she found fame with the Irish hockey team, Katie Mullan played camogie for Derry alongside Ní Chaiside.

She said some interesting things that can often be taken for granted within a sports team, but for those that don't understand, should be repeated here: "I think in sport, when you don't succeed, it brings you closer together. You build this element of trust and honesty with one another that you maybe don't get in friendships through school and University.

"It means that I know any of those girls would run through a brick wall for me and I would do the same for them. Then, when you are faced with bigger problems in life, they are the people I would look to first because we have that trust and honesty."

The programme branched into the '20x20 Initiative' that aims to achieve a 20% increase in media coverage of women in sport, 20% increase in female participation and a 20% increase in attendance at women's sporting events by 2020.

Those who play Gaelic games are heartened by certain landmarks, such as the record 50,141 people who attended the ladies' Gaelic football final between Dublin and Cork last September. But really their cause is undermined by the ridiculousness of ladies' football and camogie not actually being under the umbrella - nationally - of the GAA.

As far back as March 2013, former GAA President Aogán ÓFearghaíl spoke about attempts to bring the Ladies' Gaelic Football Association, along with the Camogie Association, under the one roof. He said: "Let's be honest, if we were designing the GAA in 2013 we would not have five separate parts.

"We would have one strong, united organisation. I want to promote our sports equally and inclusively. I recognise that to fulfil this ambition will not be easy.

"It will involve hard work. It will mean taking difficult decisions. It needs to be about our games and inclusion. It needs to rise above issues of power and position."

To be fair to ÓFearghaíl and his predecessor, Liam O'Neill, they made meaningful efforts to achieve this. But power is not easily relinquished and discussions broke down over trifling matters not in keeping with the best practise of sports governance.

The frustrating thing is that at club level and even within the Ulster Provincial Council, they have been leading the way.

Camogie President Kathleen Woods said in April 2018: "We have been living integration for this long number of years and we are so far down the road that we almost don't even talk about integration any more.

"The one-club model has been amazing, also the fact that we have a provincial integration committee that must be five years old now. All issues, concerns, wishes and hopes are taken to the table and all five GAA codes are represented at it and everybody is treated as equals and there is no separation."

Occasionally, though, the national separation hurts both parties deeply.

In 2015, Catherine McGourty won a Poc Fada organised by the Ulster Council. The men's section was won by Paddy McKillion, who was gifted a ski holiday. McGourty received only a medal.

The men's competition was organised by the GAA, along with a sponsor. A bad look indeed.

So, too, was the sight of a host of Tyrone ladies' footballers having to not only pay rent to the Garvaghey Centre, but grow hungry waiting on a bus to ferry them back to Belfast while their male counterparts had their post-training meal.

It's not all the GAA's fault, however. For some, holding onto power is always more important than using it for greater good. To their list of objectives, the 20x20 group should exert serious pressure to merge Gaelic games completely.

Declan Bogue: Armagh jet off to defy the training ban once again

How is the club-only month of April for you?

Not too stressful at all if you are a county footballer from Armagh, it would seem.

Kieran McGeeney's men headed off to the Algarve yesterday morning for a warm-weather training camp and are due back on Sunday.

The Orchard were one of the four counties that lost home advantage for a National League game after being found in contravention of Rule 6.22 (b), which states: "Senior inter-county panels shall not be permitted to go on training weekends, or training of longer duration, after the final of their respective National League having been played, except during the 10-day period prior to a senior Championship game, or during the 17 days prior to an All-Ireland senior final."

After breaking that law, Armagh were forced to play one of their home league games in Newry - the Round 2 draw against Clare. Given that they meet Down in the same venue this summer in the Ulster Championship, they might have thought the punishment was one worth taking.

Either way, they have set off again. Where they might expect some leniency from GAA authorities comes in the fixtures drawn up in the county.

The entire Easter weekend has been kept free of all senior fixtures.

However, while the panel will not be missing any league games with their clubs, Armagh were in the exact same situation last year.

They arrived back from a warm-weather training camp and assistant manager Jim McCorry attended the Ulster Championship launch in Strabane, where he explained that they were confident they were not guilty of any wrongdoing.

"Even in terms of the games as well, Armagh players all played the first three games in April. They were released for that and they were allowed to play in the fourth game," McCorry outlined.

"We had an understanding with the clubs that they could have that game back when we came back from the camp. There were no rules broken in the way we understood it. We were complying with what the regulations say."

The next step from the disciplinary bodies that enforce this policy will be interesting.

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