IN ALL FAIRNESS - Women’s sport to the fore

Has women’s sport in this part of the world ever had a weekend like it. I cannot remember one and the likelihood is we are going to have more and more of them going forward which is only welcome.

The Republic of Ireland weren’t involved in the Women’s European Championships in England, but you wouldn’t have known it as the coverage and promotion of it was akin to what we’d expect from the men’s equivalent, again if we aren’t involved. Can you only imagine what it will be like when the Ireland ladies first qualify for a major tournament, and we might not have to wait long for that as they are in with a good shout of making the World Cup next year in Australia and New Zealand.

Still, these European Championships were something Irish ladies sport had to feed off of with the benefit of greater female participation in the remaining Soccer Camps this summer and hopefully many joining a local club ahead of the new season.

Indeed, this isn’t just about soccer but the encouragement of more girls and women playing sport on a regular basis. The drop off rate from young girls playing sport into adulthood is alarming but there hadn’t been a greater opportunity for a girl/woman to stay at their chosen sport as the opportunities open to them are growing. We can’t say they are at the same level as boys get but the gap is being bridged at a large rate.

One of the great features of the latter stages of the ladies’ football championship over the last few weeks wasn’t just the coverage they got, but the stories they provided, not just on the pitch but off it, particularly the ability for more mothers to continue to play the game at a high level. It was great to hear the likes of Louise Galvin speak so honestly about having to feed her son after the All-Ireland semi-final, something men take for granted when they get to go training or playing. Then there was Aisling Donoher helping the Laois ladies to All-Ireland Intermediate glory last Sunday, while still having with the struggle of the health issues of her son Dan. What a community she was able to fall back into and be able to play sport at a high level and afford her son to see her on the big stage, just like her husband Niall did in his day with the Laois seniors.

Next Sunday is the big day for camogie and over the next week it will have its storylines which will hopefully promote the sport to a greater audience, while that day also sees the final round of the Women’s British Open golf where Leona Maguire will be among the favourites on a course that suits her.

Open any newspaper and the share of sports coverage between male and female is closing with each passing year. There is still a way to go, and that includes us in the Guardian, but we are getting there.

So, what needs to happen next? I keep saying it, but it needs more bums on seats in terms of Irish female sport. It needs Tallaght Stadium filled for every Ireland ladies home game, or ideally, they need to be outgrowing it and moving games to the Aviva Stadium.

How many of those who go to a big Tipperary hurling match each year goes to watch the camogie or ladies football team play. If you have a daughter, have you brought her to see one of her own role-models up close and personal, in many cases more accessible than their male counterparts. More bums on seats means more revenue which means more of an ability to put that money back into developing the game.

TV coverage of women’s sport has never been greater, and it will only grow. A day of ladies’ football finals last Sunday, followed by a day of camogie finals next Sunday, you can’t buy promotion like that. However, apart from those two days, both competitions fly under the radar, swamped by hurling and football coverage.

Maybe one thing camogie and ladies’ football might have to consider is moving their seasons away from the shadow of the men’s game. Hurling and football now has a split season from January to July at inter-county level and camogie and ladies’ football have largely followed suit. Is it worth considering camogie and ladies football having their inter-county seasons in the second half of the year where they would have it all to themselves. The national media are cursing the split season as they live off the inter-county game largely. What we have seen in recent weeks is that ladies sport can help fill that void.