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Working as a midwife during Covid and offering to move championship game to prevent Cork strike

Galway’s Emma Helebert speaks to The42 ahead of the All-Ireland camogie championship.
Oct 17th 2020, 9:00 AM 8,601 1

GALWAY’S EMMA HELEBERT faced a dilemma about whether or not she should make herself available to the county team for this year’s All-Ireland championship.

carrie-dolan Galway's Emma Helebert at the2020 Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Camogie Championships launch. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Unlike other cases of players deciding to step away from inter-county service, the willingness to commit was not a problem for the Ballidereen defender.

Defending an All-Ireland crown is a desirable prospect for any player to chase.

But, given her job as a healthcare professional, Helebert did have to consider her place in Cathal Murray’s squad this year.

She had been working as a midwife at the Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe but moved to the hospital in Galway city recently, back to where she did her training.

Location aside, Helebert is still in a hospital environment in the midst of a global pandemic. And naturally there’s no work-from home option in her line of work.

“Babies don’t decide not to come because of lockdown,” she told members of the media last week.

Helebert explains that she works in a group of about five or six midwives who, in turn, link up with doctors to treat their patients. This means she could me meeting up to 15 people per day at close proximity. 

Galway camogie was exposed to the threat of Covid-19 recently when the senior and junior county finals were postponed due to a positive case. The deciders were played earlier this month, and the Sarsfield club — where that case was identified — was praised for its swift action following the result of the test.

Helebert certainly didn’t want to be the reason for bringing another Covid-19 scare to the Galway camogie community. So, with the health and safety of her team-mates in mind, she considered the potential danger she might bring to the squad if she returned to the fold.

“Personally, working in a hospital, you are wary going back to girls in training. You have a responsibility and worry ‘Is it safe for me to train?’

“I feel like I have a personal responsibility to be as safe as I can with the girls on the field, as well as work.

“I had the conversation with a few of the girls who aren’t working in hospitals but with the elderly and other higher risk areas. You worry ‘Am I going to be affecting someone by coming back here?’

You don’t care about yourself, it’s the thought of bringing something back to someone that might not be as fit or healthy as the younger girls.”

The workload was steady and continuous for Helebert and her colleagues throughout lockdown. They were only recently discussing their good fortune in that respect, as people in other sectors and industries have not been so lucky.

ailish-ooreilly-carrie-dolan-aoife-donohue-and-emma-helebert-celebrate Emma Helebert after Galway's All-Ireland win last year. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They’re certainly grateful for that but the virus has brought an added pressure for midwives.

Pregnancy can be a stressful time, especially for first-time mothers, and Helebert was conscious of how Covid-19 can worsen their anxiety as the birth approaches.

The uncertainty for people was just mad. As soon as lockdown hit we were getting phonecalls left, right and centre, asking is my husband or partner allowed? I had to feel for them.

“It’s hard enough to go in with the most support you can get so to be without their support was really hard. Our roles as midwives was definitely ramped up a lot.

“You were supporting the woman but also she had the extra requirement of you. You can only admire them for what they’ve gone through. It’s not easy to give birth during the pandemic and it’s gone on so long. No one expected it to continue like that.”

Life on the pitch as been almost equally as hectic for Helebert. With a club campaign for Ballidereen already banked, her focus will now switch to the Galway team.

They could only fit in three rounds of the National League before Covid-19 interfered to shut down all activity back in March. Following that lengthy absence, Galway can finally look forward to getting their All-Ireland defence underway this weekend after defeating Kilkenny in last year’s final.

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The Tribeswomen have been drawn in Group 1 along with Wexford, Offaly and Cork, with a trip to Enniscorthy awaiting them on Sunday to get their championship off the mark.

They will then take on Offaly, who have been forced to withdraw from their opening round fixture against Cork due to a Covid-19 case in their management team. That game is scheduled for 1 November.

Galway will round off their group stage with against Cork, a game that caused plenty of controversy recent.

It forced an ongoing issue to resurface — dual fixture clashes. 

On that same day, the Cork ladies footballers are also out in action, playing against Kerry in the All-Ireland ladies football championship. Five dual players were affected by this fixture collision; Hannah Looney, Fiona Keating, Meabh Cahalane, Ciara McCarthy and Libby Coppinger.

The Camogie Association has since confirmed that the meeting of Galway and Cork will now take place on Sunday 8 November to avoid the fixture clash.

The fixture change was prompted by the the Galway camogie county board, who requested a move to assist their opposition with this dual player dilemma. 

“I don’t think any girl should have to make a decision on whether she’s going to play football or camogie on one day,” says Helebert, who was speaking before the re-fixture was announced.

“With 20×20, we’re trying to promote women in sport.

“The GAA do it perfectly by (having games on) separate weekends. I know the camogie association is trying their hardest. Their main aim is to facilitate these girls but it’s not fair to force girls to have to make a decision between them. Having to play even one day after another is too much. These are tough competitive matches.

“To play one on a Saturday and then another on a Sunday, I take my hat off to them. I definitely couldn’t do that. This case isn’t Galway’s responsibility but we’re all trying to promote women in sport, and if there was anything we could do to facilitate them, I’m sure Cathal and our management team were happy to do that.”

Cork All-Ireland winner Laura Treacy also addressed the media at the launch of the camogie championships last week. At the time, she revealed that the squad would consider taking strike action in response to the situation.

Thankfully, a resolution has since been found.

hannah-looney Hannah Looney is one of the five dual players affected by the fixture clash. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Helebert doesn’t want to see her allies in camogie suffer like this, and believes that aligning the camogie, GAA and LGFA under the one umbrella is the way to solve this fixture problems going forward.

You don’t want any girl to have to take that drastic measure. These girls are playing for the love of the sport, and both in their case. You don’t want it to go down that nasty road, where players feel they’re forced to have to do something as drastic as that.

“The support has to be shown for them girls, that people are going to be in their corner. I hope it doesn’t get to that. They need support from the hierarchy to help them.

“When it comes to the hierarchy is the only solution an amalgamation between LGFA and camogie or a working relationship established so fixtures don’t become an issue next summer again.

“It would be great. I know they’ve talked about that in recent years. It would only make women in sport stronger.”

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Sinead Farrell

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