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Dublin: 11°C Friday 26 February 2021

'The players are crying out but they don't listen': Dublin camogie star's passionate argument for change

Eve O’Brien had a lot to get off her chest – and she feels that most camogie players will agree.

EVE O’BRIEN SETTLES into her seat, proudly sporting the new Dublin jersey.

AIG Dublin GAA Jersey Launch Dublin camogie star Eve O'Brien. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

The Dublin camogie star smiles and warmly greets the three journalists before her, shaking hands and exchanging hellos as dictaphones and recording devices are slid across the table to her front.

Fierce on the pitch as she operates from full-back, she appears much more shy and timid in person as media duties commence in the AIG offices on a miserable October Thursday morning. 

O’Brien takes a sip of water as the opening question is put to her, her Dublin ladies football counterpart Olwen Carey just having left the room after finishing her interview:

“When you see the Dublin ladies footballers the last two years, I’m sure you’re delighted for them obviously…”

She grins and nods her head in agreement.

“But you’re thinking, ‘That’s where we need to get to as well’, I’d imagine?”

She begins and from the get-go, it’s fair to say she has a few things to get off her chest.

“I think with ladies football in general — obviously the Dublin girls, I’m delighted for them. It’s not like they’ve been dominant for years, they’ve really worked hard for that success and they’ve lost three finals before they got there.

“Generally, ladies football has built itself into this really powerful brand. Testament is the 51,000 in Croke Park, that kind of thing. With camogie, as a sport in general, it’s just not getting the same level of interest or attendance at games. 

“It’s definitely something, I think, the Association needs to work on. Things like sponsorship and that is important. Just, you know, they could do with working on that. 

“We’d obviously love to see success but I also think it’s important that our sport gets the recognition as well. That’s something that’s been a bit of a bugbear for me over the last few years, how we just haven’t pushed on with those numbers of attendance and things like that.

“We seem to be forgotten about a lot of the time, particularly in Dublin because the football is so strong, the hurlers are lumped in there and the camogie is just a bit left out sometimes.”

She reins herself back in a little bit as she continues to speak about the ‘dark times’ for Dublin Camogie in the past and how much they’ve improved as a unit under David Herity.

Eve O’Brien O'Brien in action for Dublin. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

He won’t continue as manager in 2019 but last year, he steered the Sky Blues to their first All-Ireland semi-final in 27 years while this year, they won more games in total but bowed out at the last eight stage in championship.

O’Brien delves deeper then into some positives. The numbers in nurseries around the capital are ever-growing; there’s more understanding now with dual players than she’s seen in years past.  

But then again, the clashes. Time and time again we hear story after story of ladies football and camogie fixtures colliding. “It’s a bit bizarre,” she remarks. “We’re all talking about player welfare?”

One solution? Bring the GAA, the LGFA and the Camogie Association under one umbrella.

“Why are we all doing things separately? We need to try and work together,” she says. “We still haven’t had a double-header. I’m scratching my head here.

“I personally believe it would be beneficial for us all to come under one [organisation]. I just don’t think the appetite is there on all sides to do that. Even if you’re not going to come in under one, at least get at the table and start talking to each other.

“I work in Croke Park in the museum. There’s people coming in from all over the country and they’re always talking to me about this. I tell them I’m a player and that it’s a different organisation, they can’t believe it. People don’t actually really realise this.

“It’s not like the GAA aren’t doing anything for us. We are our own thing. There’s a lot of tradition as part of it.”

Tradition. That’s a big thing. 

“Jesus, I’ll get killed for this,” she begins. Then fires. “But the Camogie Association is just a very conservative organisation that does not like change. 

“We wear skorts just because we’re women — it’s feminine and we should be ladies and wear skorts. It’s a small thing but it’s very symbolic of the organisation that is quite traditional. 

“I just feel like they want to be different from hurling. Going back all those years, it used to be so different: 13-a-side, smaller goals, X, Y, Z. People want it to be just like hurling and I think they’re holding on to that thing, ‘No, we’re Camogie’.

Eve O’Brien and Graine Quinn Dejected with Grainne Quinn after last year's championship exit. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“The players are crying out for this but they don’t listen. We’re the ones playing the game now, not them. Personally, I just feel like they need to do something. We’re busy trying to play and train. We don’t have time to go and knock down the door of Croke Park.

“People that are often representing the players, like the county boards, there’s a massive disconnect. You go to the Camogie Association, all the delegates, they’re not in touch with their players and they may not be representing their views.”

Just look at this year’s All-Ireland final between Cork and Kilkenny and the uproar which followed because of the painful stop-start nature of proceedings.

No flow, questionable refereeing, archaic rules.

Pure and utter frustration.

“The talk of the final this year,” she vents. “The one day that people actually watch camogie, everyone’s just talking about the ref and how they can’t touch each other.

“It is actually so tough to watch, it’s stop-start and people are like, ‘I’m not going to watch this rubbish.’ The game is a good game when it’s let flow, like anything. Thankfully the final brought up a lot of issues where they need to think about being more lenient, introducing shouldering or whatever they need to do to be a bit better.”

Players’ physicality has outgrown the rule book; the game has changed and evolved over the years. As for shouldering, O’Brien wants it introduced, and she’s fairly certain the vast majority of players would agree.

“We’re just not let hurl. Everyone’s much stronger now. Women kind of parallel men in terms of we do the same strength and conditioning. We are getting much stronger, the game is physical. It’s just the way the game’s evolved.

“And the rules haven’t changed. I can’t really blame the refs because their hands are tied by the rule book. 

“The handpass goal is something that destroys the game because there’s no skill involved, it’s undefendable. Sure I’m a full-back so I hate it,” she grins. But she’s fully serious.

Chloe Sigerson and Julie Ann Malone Cork's Chloe Sigerson and Kilkenny's Julie Ann Malone in action in the 2018 All-Ireland final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Skorts, from a symbolic point of view, it’s a simple thing to change. I just feel like a lot of girls would agree with me,” O’Brien continues, again stressing the what needs to change.

“The skorts, the handpass goal and mainly the physicality. Consistency of refereeing. We know all the refs, there’s a handful at senior county level. We look on the sheet like, ‘Who have we got?’ and completely change our game based on the ref.

“That’s ridiculous. It’s not fair.”

She mentions it a few times throughout our conversation so it’s evident that the lack of double-headers is something that really frustrates her. 

One specific example she refers back to is from June of this year. The hurlers hosted Offaly in Parnell Park on 3 June, before the camogie team faced the same opposition at the same venue on 9 June.

“There was no reason why there couldn’t have been conversations to move those games together. It was such an opportunity.” she frowns, especially given the fact that the layout of the year was changed to have the two competitions in parallel with potential for double billings. It may have happened elsewhere, but not in her county.

“In Dublin we weren’t able to link up that joined-up thinking. I heard things like, ‘Oh, how would the split the gate?’ in terms of money. Obviously, that’s what you’re dealing with because there’s a separate kitty there for us. I just don’t understand.

“It’s very frustrating as players because that is just such a huge opportunity for us to have people who want to support both teams. If you support Dublin, you support all four codes.”

But then again, it’s about much more than that support. The presence in the stands, the volume of voices, the interest.

“That’s great, but at the end of the day, it’s money. That money that comes through the gate goes towards your county board to fund your team.

AIG Dublin GAA Jersey Launch Dublin stars Crummey, Olwen Carey, Brian Fenton and Eve O'Brien. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“The reason why the women’s teams don’t have all the sports psychology, all the different facilities — in fairness we have quite a good set-up with Dublin Camogie and I’m grateful for that but a lot of that is because we fundraise our own money and things like that.

“It pays to have a professional squad so you can get success and all those things. The professional element of the game. If you don’t have the money to do it, it’s not going to happen.”

Change is needed across the board.

And big time, she concludes.

Dublin stars Brian Fenton, Chris Crummey, Olwen Carey and Eve O’Brien were on hand today to help Dublin GAA and sponsors AIG Insurance to officially launch the new Dublin jersey at AIG’s head office.

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Emma Duffy

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