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'Would it happen in the men's game? Not a hope. It's actually embarrassing'

Briege Corkery and James Masters share their thoughts on Cork dual star Libby Coppinger’s dilemma – potentially lining out in two All-Ireland championship games on Saturday.

IT LOOKED LIKE the controversial scenario of ladies dual players being forced to play two inter-county games in one day was a thing of the past.

Libby Coppinger tackles Caoimhe Costelloe Coppinger in action for the camogie side. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In June 2016, it was confirmed that the Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) had reached an agreement to avoid major fixture clashes, with the games set to take place on alternate weekend days.

The controversy has been reignited over the past few days however.

As it stands, Cork dual star Libby Coppinger is facing the reality of togging out for two inter-county fixtures — or making a big decision — on Saturday.

First up, it’s an All-Ireland senior football quarter-final against Galway at 12.30pm in Cusack Park, Mullingar, before the camogie side face the Tribeswomen in the national semi-final in Limerick — a 165km journey from the first venue, according to Google Maps — at 7pm.

Both games will be broadcast live by TG4 and RTÉ respectively, and for that reason, no alternative arrangements can be made — as per statements from both associations.

It all came to light as the Rebels’ football manager Ephie Fitzgerald appeared on Cork’s RedFM on Friday to express his anger, branding the treatment of Coppinger, and the fact that the fixtures stand, as ‘an absolute disgrace’.

Social media lit up afterwards as the situation came to the fore, and one of those who shared their dismay was Cork dual star Briege Corkery.

Corkery is taking a break this year and has stepped away from both panels, but she’s been to the centre of many similar scenarios in the past.

“It’s a huge decision to make — do you play with the footballers or the camogie? I know for a fact, when I was playing I wouldn’t have been able to make the decision,” she tells The42. 

“You try and go out and play for the two, but you’re not doing yourself any justice in a way. Surely they can do it a day apart, a different time. These are things that have to be avoided.

“If it was a men’s situation, would it clash? Should matches really suffer around the TV rather than player welfare really?

“With Cork it’s only one player, but the same girl travels about 100 miles six times a week nearly to get to training. To have this clash after all of that effort since January, it’s just very harsh. It’s the player that’s falling short here.

“It’s very disappointing for her, it’s just disappointing that it has happened again. I understand for media attention, it’s great to have the games on television. But for Libby, it’s awful for Libby to make that decision.”

Libby Coppinger and Sinead O'Sullivan Coppinger in action in last year's All-Ireland championship. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

While recognising both associations’ reasonings, Corkery noted that the situation boils down to player welfare at the end of the day, and that situations like these can be prevented.

“I don’t want to blame anyone on top of anything. This is about letting a girl live her dream that she’s wanted since she was 11 or 12 years old. They [the LGFA and Camogie Association] probably have talked, but there should be no reason for them [fixtures] to clash.

“Libby has found two talents that suit her, why should she pick one over the other just because we’re not coming under the one umbrella, and not chatting about it properly? It’s little things.

“One Saturday, one Sunday. That’s all they want.”

Cork ladies football selector James Masters was another who voiced a strong opinion on Twitter. He echoed his words to The42 earlier today:

“It’s just disappointing. Anyone from Bantry or West Cork would know that she’s the most committed girl ever. It’s just a shame.

“It’s not unbelievably effecting us in that we’re the first game on the Saturday, but for her. I was talking to Ephie [Fitzgerald] this morning, we’d have absolutely no problem in changing the game to Sunday to suit her. Just to give her that 24 hours, or even 18 hours to recover.

Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley celebrate with the Brendan Martin Cup Corkery, with Rena Buckley, who has committed solely to camogie this year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I presume Libby’s going to try and play both of them but it’s just not right on her. We don’t know, the team’s not picked yet but if she does start with us, or if she comes on, and then she’ll probably be starting with the camogie. It’s just a shame.”

Masters, likewise, questioned if the same thing would happen if it was the men’s game, and expressed his frustration following last year’s assurance that similar situations wouldn’t reoccur.

“In June last year, they had said it will never happen again and now, a year later… I don’t know.

“Realistically, would it happen in the men’s game? Let’s say Austin Gleeson if he was playing with the Waterford footballers — do you think he’d be playing in an All-Ireland quarter-final on Saturday morning and then going down to Limerick and playing an All-Ireland semi-final seven or eight hours later? Not a hope would it happen.

“The most gauling thing for me is that the LGFA and the Camogie Association both came out with statements saying their fixtures were ratified in November last year and they can’t change it, which is totally wrong.

“They had said that they’d speak to one another and it wouldn’t happen again, but surely to God, the first thing they’d do is that they’d look at fixtures.

“We’re not looking for a week or anything like that, all we’re asking for is a day to have Libby right and that she’s fully refreshed for the football or fully refreshed for the hurling. What it looks like at the minute is that she won’t be fully refreshed for the hurling, which is wrong.

“It’s very hard on her, she’s trying to play an All-Ireland quarter-final — then [the camogie semi-final] totally different codes, totally different game plays. It’s not on.”

Masters confirmed that once the fixture details were released, the Cork ladies county board requested an amendment and it was rejected.

The LGFA and Camogie Association’s statements were then issued on Friday, but there has been no movement since.

“We were hoping that it would be resolved by a day, but at the moment it’s not,” he continued.

“We have to speak to Libby herself and ask her what she wants to do. At the end of the day, all we want is for Libby to be okay. If she picks camogie, that’s fine. If she picks football, that’s fine. If she wants to play both, that’s fine too.

“It 100% comes down to player welfare, that’s their responsibility. The whole logistics of it even. We’re going up there [Mullingar] Friday night so Libby will stay up there, play her match at half 12, do a warm down, drive down to Limerick, do a warm up and start in an All-Ireland semi-final. It’s ridiculous. When you think of it, it’s actually embarrassing.

“I know it’s great that the TV are covering it and we’re delighted. But at the end of the day, I’d much prefer to play a day later and have no TV but having Libby right, rather than her getting a slight injury and not being able to play an All-Ireland semi-final that she’s trained all year for.

James Masters Cork ladies football selector James Masters, of Nemo Rangers. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“That’s her life and soul. It’s Libby that’s losing out.

“It looks 99% sure that it won’t be changed,” he concluded.

A spokesperson for the LGFA confirmed to The42 that the All-Ireland quarter-final between Cork and Galway will throw-in as scheduled at 12.30pm on Saturday 19 August in Cusack Park, Mullingar.

As of now, the camogie fixture also looks like it will continue as planned, at 7pm in the Gaelic Grounds on the same date.

“Due to live television commitments unfortunately it is not possible to re-arrange our upcoming semi-final fixtures,” the Camogie Association’s statement read.

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