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'Put it in the public more so the respect for women's sport becomes greater and greater'

From 20×20 to 2020 Olympic qualification, World Cup silver-winning manager Graham Shaw sat down for an in-depth chat.

“WHEN ARE YOU going to do the men’s job?”

Graham Shaw Ireland hockey head coach Graham Shaw. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Graham Shaw didn’t know what do or say, or where to look, when he was struck with that very question last week. The Irish women’s hockey head coach, who oversaw their glittering World Cup run this summer, was out and about for the evening and could barely believe what two lads had just asked him.

“I looked at them like, ‘What?’” he told the audience, to some nervous — but downright appalled — laughter at the launch of the 20×20 campaign on Monday morning.

“‘We just won a silver medal at the World Cup. I want to be with these for the next six, eight, 10 years if I can because this is a team, I feel, that can go to the next level.’

“It is a culture shift, it is a mindset that we need to change.”

He finds it difficult to talk about, as is discovered shortly afterwards when he sits down with The42 for a chat. He doesn’t see them as two different roles: the men’s job and the women’s job. He just sees them as the Irish job.

That mindset of disparity, of separation though, how can it be changed?

To Shaw, it’s simple. Put these strong, powerful, skillful female athletes in the public eye and then there’s a knock-on effect.

They’ll inspire younger girls to get involved. Role models will pull through the next generation. 

If she can’t see it, she can’t be it, as 20×20′s slogan goes.

*** 

The obvious place to start is the summer that’s been. That fairytale journey across the water in London, The Green Army etching their names into history and capturing the hearts and minds of the nation while doing so. They were seen, no doubt about it.

Ireland players celebrate with their silver medals Ireland players celebrate. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

They fell short in the decider to defending champions The Netherlands, of course, but absolutely nobody would have predicted what had happened up until that point.

Little over two months later, looking back is a strange one, Shaw admits.

“I’m finding it quite difficult actually to reflect on it,” he tells The42.

“Sometimes I even kind of pinch myself to make sure it still happened. You go in there with obviously a set of goals on how you want to perform and play on the day. It was well beyond anyone’s expectations to make a World Cup final.

“I reflect on it with a smile and a lot of good memories but now I need to park it and we need to focus on the next job ahead.”

For the purpose of the wider picture though, we delve a little deeper into the campaign itself. They navigated through a tricky group, making a huge statement of intent in their opening game as they beat the USA and went from there. 

Going in, 151-time capped international Shaw says his side and their entire set-up knew they could get a result. The confidence was there. 

“That wasn’t a massive surprise to us but probably a huge surprise to everybody else,” he says. Probably? Most definitely on home soil anyway. As for around World Hockey, that was another story.

From there, everything snowballed.

“There was a real belief, a real togetherness within the squad,” he continues. “We really did feel we could push any team in the world.

“We’ve a very strong culture. We would talk about these things a lot and how we try control our emotions in a tournament: that’s the highs and the lows. You need to try stay level-headed.

Graham Shaw with Millie OMahony Graham Shaw meets seven-year-old Millie OMahony. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Sometimes the high can be too high and then there’s a big crash to a low. We’d talk about that a lot: not getting too emotional, too high or two low.”

The story is known well at this stage. Another win over India to add to that opening victory over the US was enough to see Ireland top Pool B despite a loss to the hosts.

Pitted against India once again in the quarter-final, a penalty shoot-out win saw them into the last four. Likewise, they overcame Spain on penalties in the semi-final while a 6-0 loss to the Dutch saw them return to the Emerald Isle with historic silver medals.

An incredible achievement.

But as Shaw says, one which must be parked.

The team hasn’t come together as a whole since. There’s a handful of senior players weighing up their future and assessing where they are, there are several others playing abroad.

The first time they’ll get 95% or so of them together will be in December. 

“That’s exactly what we need to talk about — listen, it’s an amazing achievement but we do need to park it,” he repeats. Emphasis.

“We can come back to it at the end of our careers and celebrate it then. But right now our objective is to qualify for the Olympic Games and that has been our objective ever since I’ve taken over, being honest. 

The World Cup fell after two years but the Olympic Games was always, always the goal and the dream for this team. We’ll continue now to focus on trying to qualify for the Olympic Games and park that silver medal now for the time being.”

2020 vision for Tokyo. Redemption after Rio 2016 qualification passed the group by.

Going forward now, there’s that sense of expectation now. But with expectation comes opportunity, and this special contingent of players are sure to grab it with both hands. 

EA3I8472 Ireland hockey manager Graham Shaw. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

They’ve most definitely done it since they rocketed into the limelight, the World Cup heroes focused on creating a legacy and a long-lasting impression on the public.

“That’s really important to us,” Shaw notes. “It’s really, really important to the girls.

“It was them that put that into their culture document. They wanted to inspire young girls to get involved in sport. Whether it’s hockey, that’s fantastic for us, but it’s very important that we have a lasting impact on young women and girls coming through.

“I know the girls are very, very proud of it.”

One story in particular touched the crowd during the prior panel discussion. When the Ireland manager returned home after the World Cup, the first thing his young daughter said to him was, ‘Daddy, I want to be a hockey player’.

“That shouldn’t mean as much as it meant to me, but it’s amazing that these girls have impacted young girls’ lives,” he adds.

Perhaps it’s that sense that — and he agrees with the brains behind the operation and Along Came A Spider CEO Sarah Colgan on this one — parents often encourage their sons to play sport more than their daughters if they don’t want to.

Push them all the same. The responsibility is on parents. It starts there. The onus is on men as much as women to support women in sport.

“How you do that is you put it in the public more so the respect for women’s sport becomes greater and greater. It’s ignorance that people think about women’s sport that way.

“They’re completely unaware of the commitment and the dedication that these players have. The sacrifices that these elite athletes put themselves through, exactly like the men. They’re no different.

Our girls dedicate their lives to this sport. They do absolutely everything the men’s side do so why should they be treated any different? We have a responsibility now to make sure that they stay in the public eye, that we inspire another generation so that this process continues.”

Rounding off our conversation, it comes back to that meeting mentioned and that question about the men’s job.

Graham Shaw comforts Megan Frazer before the game Shaw with Megan Frazer. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Shaw revisits the moment in question and tries to string the words together to describe his feelings and thoughts on the matter.

“It’s a difficult one for me to talk about because I don’t see them as two different roles,” he says, saying exactly what was written all over his face during the panel discussion.

“I see them as the Irish job. Whether my ambition is to do the men down the road… I could have started with the men and then moved onto the women. I just don’t… It’s just a strange one for me, I don’t see them as two different roles.

“I see them as both the Irish jobs. Just one’s the men’s team, one’s the women’s team; I don’t see them as any different. I found it difficult to talk about it because I feel like I’m talking about something that I don’t really… my mind doesn’t go there… it just doesn’t think about it that way.

“It’s an unusual one for me to talk about.”

Undoubtedly, as is his personality, Shaw was nice and polite to the two lads but stood up for his beliefs, sharing his opinion in an appropriate manner.

That mindset, that attitude, the separation of men and women, the disparity. That’s the way it’s pretty much always been.

“How you change it in the general wider community and culture in the whole of Ireland is that we need to put them more in the public eye,” he concludes, emphasising previous points.

“We need to showcase exactly their skills, we need to show the level of commitment and loyalty they have to each other and to playing for their country, just like the men do.

“We need to make people aware of it, as was said inside many times. We need to create role models for our young girls coming through because then it just becomes the norm and that’s what we do.

“The more and more we put it out there, the more and more we give the opportunity for our female stars to present themselves for who they are. I think it’s very, very important going forward.”

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Emma Duffy

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