When St Peter’s College, Dunboyne opened in 1994, I was involved in the formation of the first Gaelic football teams to represent the school. In the first matches the school ever played, both lads and ladies teams took to the field decked out in red t-shirts procured hastily from Dunnes Stores.
By the time both teams played their second matches – away to O’Carolan College of Nobber – the lads had got a set of jerseys from our club and the girls, for reasons I could never establish, wore a kit borrowed from the local soccer club.
Now, there had been a few incarnations of ladies football teams in Dunboyne before my time, but, the opening of the secondary school was what really put Peil Na mBan on the sound footing needed to make it the stronghold it has grown to be.
That’s not to say, though, that there weren’t bumps along the road. Potholes, more like. It is my belief these obstacles were caused by what one might call parish pump politics. Which, in fairness, were eventually circumvented and the benefits of the integration have been there for all to see.
Sadly, however, there’s ample evidence to suggest that in other places and at higher levels things are far from that harmonious. One need only refer to the cases involving the Cavan lady footballers and Kildare camogie team to see how far there is still left to go for female GAA players to get a level playing field.
Of course, we in Meath didn’t require any further franking of that fact. Especially when taking the plight of dual players into the equation. Not all that long ago, reference was made to the case of Megan Thynne having to play two half games for the county in camogie and football on the same day.
In one sense, things have improved a bit on that front, in that matches are now played one day after the other, but let’s be honest here, that’s still akin to getting a belt of a lump hammer to put you asleep prior to a medical procedure!
Recent developments suggest that the Association’s leading ladies are nearing the end of their tether. Only in my last column in this paper, mention was made of the dangers of mixing politics and sport, and yet again, it takes centre stage.
It seems like a fair while ago now that former President Mary McAleese was announced as heading up a committee charged with instigating proper integration across all ‘sections’ of the GAA. Yet last week’s unprecedented statement from the lady footballers and camogie players at inter county level that they would compete in this year’s Championships “Under Protest” is surely evidence enough that there’s still a way to go before full equality can even be seen on the horizon.
While their frustrations are both understandable and unacceptable in this day and age, unfortunately time and history have proven that the only form of protest the power brokers in certain places understand is all out strike.
The Cork hurlers engaged therein a couple of decades ago in order to get themselves a better deal, as they saw it. Likewise much more recently when referees in Roscommon downed whistles in solidarity with one of their colleagues after he was subjected to a brutal assault.
Players, though, generally don’t want to be missing out on playing unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. If their concerns aren’t addressed shortly it might be.