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Funding boost for Belfast and Derry camogie

Winning way: Galway’s Lorraine Ryan, Heather Cooney and Sarah Dervan celebrate their All-Ireland success over Kilkenny
Winning way: Galway’s Lorraine Ryan, Heather Cooney and Sarah Dervan celebrate their All-Ireland success over Kilkenny
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

The record-breaking attendance of 24,730 at Sunday's camogie finals was one of many highlights of a dizzying day for the sport, but in keeping with expectations for a game that has gone stratospheric in recent times.

The Camogie Association have also plans to increase participation levels in the large urban areas of Belfast and Derry, joining in with the greater efforts of the 'Gaelfast' financial package aimed at strengthening the GAA in Belfast, and a similar scheme in Derry city.

President of the Camogie Association, Kathleen Woods - of the Derrynoose club in Armagh - stated: "The staff member over this will be funded by the Camogie Association at national level. We will be working very closely with the Belfast 'Gaelfast' initiative. Our rural clubs are more secure than our urban clubs. We have huge urban populations that are missing out on our games, so we really want to being our game to those girls.

"Schools will be a big target. I know the Ulster administrator Julie O'Neill is doing major work in schools and colleges right across Ulster. She is having great results there. She is the administrator in Armagh.

"Integration with the GAA and camogie in Ulster is very, very strong and is leading the way, on the ground."

In the past year, female sport has enjoyed an explosion of interest. Last September the record attendance of over 50,141 at the ladies' football finals became the best attended female sporting event in Europe. This summer was synonymous with the success of the women's soccer World Cup, with the winning team of America containing many outspoken and charismatic members.

There is significant trickle-down effect to the games earlier in the competition. In the senior All-Ireland camogie semi-finals held in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, 4,368 attended, which is a well above the average National League game in men's football or hurling.

Since the All-Ireland camogie finals became stand-alone sports events, the attendances have steadily risen. In 2014, 12,476 came through the gates. That rose up to break the 20k mark in 2016 with 20,037 and while they fell just marginally short of the 25,000 mark they had targeted this year, the level they have reached is remarkable.

Kathleen Woods says it came as no surprise from those involved in promoting the game.

"We were expecting to beat it," she said.

"One of the major things about this season has been the number of games to have been streamed live throughout the Championship. There was a game streamed live every weekend, and AIB did the same during the club Championship."

She added: "So, more people are being exposed to the top quality of what camogie is. The notion that there are wee girls running around the pitch pretending to be hurlers… that's gone.

"They are strong, determined, highly-tuned and toned athletes who spend four, maybe five days a week honing their skills and improving their physical competencies. And that has been the case for a number of years.

"It's taken a while to build it up and I really believe camogie is on the crest of a wave, I truly do, and I have high hopes for our game over this next decade."

New technology has helped their cause. Sky TV broadcasting the game was a statement of intent also and Woods paid lavish tributes to the employees of the Camogie Association.

"I have to say the team of dedicated employees that we have, you couldn't pay them for what they do," she said.

"Everybody comes into work with a job description, but to achieve what they have yesterday, it takes everybody on board and everybody driving forward."

Part of the appeal of this year's final was how referee Ray Kelly handled the occasion, allowing a certain amount of physical contact that was disappointingly absent in the previous year's decider.

Woods revealed that work is well underway to implement a number of experimental rule changes for the 2020 leagues, with the level of physicality expected to be addressed.

A comparison with the game a decade ago shows two sports with little relevance to each other.

Go back 20 years when the pitch was made smaller and the game was played 11-a-side, and it's even more pronounced. The typical county player now is in possession of skills and strength that outstrips entirely their predecessors.

The first draft of rule changes is expected to be back to Ard Chomhairle for their October meeting.

"We are hoping for no more than three rules at a time - I think we have learned that as a way forward. You have to allow referees, coaches, players a chance to come to terms with changes," said Woods.

"They will put forward their recommendations to us and we have past players, present players, we have health and medical specialists on this rules group and it is chaired by Liam O'Neill (former president of the GAA)."

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