Clubs can build on inter-county progress
Some would say the dust had yet to settle on Tipperary's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway, but at last Saturday's launch of the 2021 FBD Insurance Tipp Club Camogie Championship, there was a palpable sense that the county had no intention of dwelling unnecessarily on the past. The future is unequivocally bright, perhaps brighter than it has been for some years.
Had Tipp managed to convert even one of the several goal chances which arose during the closing stages of the Galway game, the outcome may ultimately have been very different. Bill Mullaney, his management team, and the players will reflect on that game with an inevitable sense of frustration, and while it might continue to occupy the back of their minds, it will also serve as powerful motivation going into next season. It may also motivate some of the Tipp players to spearhead their respective club campaigns as the 2021 County Camogie Championship gets under way.
For Denis Lenihan, the chairperson of Tipperary camogie, the experience of playing Galway in Croke Park represented a major shift forward in terms of the progression of this Tipp side, enabling many of the younger players to taste the agony, ecstasy, and adrenaline which swirls around Croke Park on a big match-day. Emerging from that tunnel underneath the Hogan Stand often marks the realisation of a long-held childhood dream, but even the most vivid dreams rarely prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster of the actual experience. That requires time and practice, which is why the semi-final should benefit many of the younger members of this Tipp panel.
“I think the most important thing is that the girls have now got that experience of the big occasion, of playing in Croke Park,” he began.
“A lot of them would never have played there before, and it is like a cauldron on big match day. But they gave everything, the players, the management team. You just couldn’t have asked them for more, and I think with a small bit of luck, we could have got over the line. But as we said afterwards, that’s sport.”
The drive to promote women in sport has various dimensions to it, from increasing female participation at grassroots level to enhancing the exposure and status of elite athletes and teams. There is of course, still a long way to go, but developments over the past number of years have been largely positive - spurred on by capital investment programs and initiatives such as the 20x20 campaign.
Lenihan’s focus is firmly fixed on enhancing the status of Tipperary camogie, but he always takes a broader perspective, emphasising how his sport is part of a much wider movement to improve health and wellbeing across the community, both through participation in sport, or just physical activity in general.
There are a few crucial ingredients necessary to create a thriving sporting landscape, particularly one in which males and females are given equal opportunities. Inspiration, incentives, and infrastructure are all vital. As Lenihan outlines, top inter-county players have the ability to inspire younger generations, while the presence of local clubs incentivises them to pick up a hurley and try the game out. However, none of this is possible without proper infrastructure and facilities.
This something Tipperary Camogie has successfully advanced in recent years, but there is more work to be done, and Lenihan is determined to upgrade the county’s resources and training programs to a new level.
“Young girls are looking at their stars - Cáit Devane, Karen Kennedy, Mol Ryan - and they want to be like those women,” he said.
“2021 was a big year for women in sport, but that’s continuing on. The amount of girls we have playing camogie in Tipperary, the amount of clubs that are forming, it’s just great. And there’s great support for all the teams as well - the under-16s, the minors. Everybody is flying. But the important thing for the county board is to try to improve our facilities, to try to get our strength and conditioning right, to get all those things in order.”
Tipperary is home to 37 active camogie clubs, a dramatic increase compared to even a decade ago. Most operate in collaboration with their local GAA and Ladies Football clubs, illustrating that really and truly, at grassroots level, all four sports - camogie, ladies football, hurling, and gaelic football - are embedded within the same community.
Various controversies have erupted concerning fixture clashes between the Camogie Association and the LGFA, as well as occasional friction with the GAA, but this simply does not reflect the reality on the ground.
Lenihan is effusive in his praise of Tipperary GAA, and their willingness to provide facilities, and although he has to remain somewhat diplomatic when it comes to the prospect of a merger between the three organisations - the GAA, the Camogie Association, and the LGFA - he certainly feels that the option should be explored.
After 18 months of Covid-induced separation, in which society suddenly became lonely and isolated, it doesn’t really make sense for massive sporting organisations to remain distant from one another. Covid presented major challenges for Lenihan and Tipp Camogie, as it did for every sporting organisation. However, he feels that it has created certain benefits, such as encouraging people to appreciate the amenities present on their doorstep, whether that’s a camogie club, a sporting facility, or a natural feature.
The Newport/Ballinahinch man is proud to lead an organisation which is clearly on an upward trajectory. All-Ireland titles in Croke Park are certainly part of his vision, but at the end of the day, there is one aspect of the game which he holds above all others. The place where it all begins: the clubs.
“Clubs are the number one,” Lenihan stressed. “That’s where everything starts, where you have to get your structures right and your coaching to a good level. That all comes from the clubs, but it takes time. When you have success, your revenue stream increases, your sponsorship increases, which helps the county and the clubs as well.”