I BEGAN my camogie career playing with Down in 1999. As a 15 year-old, I was absolutely delighted to get that phone call from the then manager Bernie McNally and jumped at the opportunity to play with players like Mairin McAleenan, Deirdre Savage, Pauline Green and Jennifer Branniff to name but a few.
For those that can do the math I have been about playing for quite some time, but when thinking about it recently I realised that apart from Bernie and a short spell with Veronica McGreevy and Martina Rooney in charge, the Down Camogie team have generally been led/managed/coached by men.
Please do not get me wrong, I have learned so many things from all of my coaches but I do wonder why have there been so few females?
When you look at the current intercounty scene it paints a very similar picture with the only female led teams at senior grade being Susan Earner (Offaly) and Elaine Dowds (Antrim), both of whom had excellent inter county careers themselves. But why are there not more?
In Down this is also very similar in the club scene with most teams coached and managed by men. It makes me wonder, because, over the 20 years or more that I have played, I know there are players there that would have made outstanding coaches.
Unfortunately, this year Down Camogs were without the playing presence of Sara Louise Graffin, and I congratulate her and Aaron on the birth of their beautiful daughter Cara. However, Sara Louise stepped up in other ways and showed exactly the positive impact a female coach can have.
Alongside Mickey Glover she has pushed us forward possibly more than any male coach has done. For me there is one reason for that – she is coaching and pushing us to improve in exactly the way she would want to as a player herself.
Moreover, she knows the game inside out and is an absolute role model for all the young players coming through. She has also shown that she knows each player as an individual, knowing when to be that “hard taskmaster” or when to give that more “gentle approach”.
Of course as you may have realised in my previous column, as a teacher I am interested in seeing progression in both playing and coaching in schools.
Over the past five years I have saw so many excellent female coaches with teams and wonder how and why have they not been snapped up by club and county teams?
Niamh Donnelly, a teacher in St Killian’s Garron Tower and still playing for Antrim, recently coached her Year 12 school team to All-Ireland success and various other coaches such Aileen McManus, Ciara Donnelly, Una Kelly and Catriona Scott, all helping to produce excellent players, would not be far from the top of a list if I was selecting a coach.
I know now that I am nearing the end of my playing days but I have always seen a future with coaching in front of me. Over the next few years I hope to see more of my teammates and even opponents step up into top coaching jobs.
You just have to look at Ann Downey who coached the Kilkenny camogie to an All-Ireland title in 2016 and then moved on to coach the Ballyragget hurling team. Why should females not coach male teams?
In Ulster we are fortunate to have some excellent opportunities to help improve and progress our coaching standards with various different courses available at foundation and Level 1.
Ulster Camogie also hosts an Ulster Camogie Coach academy delivered by All-Ireland winning camogie coach Mickey Glover. These are so invaluable and will help to continue to drive the standards of coaching, and ultimately performance levels higher in Ulster. So to all the females who want to be coaches get out there.
Get involved in all these opportunities and let’s continue to improve our standards.
To all those club and counties, maybe it’s time to think outside the box!