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James Crombie/INPHO Cork dual star Hannah Looney.
# Setback
'It's very discouraging. If you want to play two sports, that door should always be open'
Cork dual star Hannah Looney talks being disheartened by Congress, and the importance of role models in women’s sport.

HANNAH LOONEY IS still trying to make sense of a decision that felt like a punch in the gut.

The Cork dual star hadn’t thought too much about the Dublin motion which was being put forward at the Ladies Gaelic Football Association’s Annual Congress last Saturday. 

The motion, which called for official recognition and support of the dual player concept, was a pretty straight-forward deal in her eyes.

Yet the motion was defeated, and LGFA President Marie Hickey was left shutting down suggestions the Association is against the concept of the dual player.

Looney is still struggling to wrap her head around a decision which has left many players disheartened.

“I remember sitting down and having a cup of tea with my mother, and it was on the news,” she says.

“I was like, ‘This shouldn’t be on the news!’ It should be, I don’t know, that Orla Finn scored x-amount for Cork or whatever, rather than that.

Tweet by @Hannah Looney Hannah Looney / Twitter Hannah Looney / Twitter / Twitter

“Anytime I hear controversy it seems to be around dual clashes. And I think people are sick of it in general. Like, I didn’t read into it all. I know the WGPA did a survey and 97% of players supported it, so you’re like ‘Ah, grand.’ Then you open Twitter and see it’s rejected… It just seems to be a step backwards, you know?” 

Her concern is that any controversy or lack of support around the dual player concept will see young girls reconsider, or even step away, from playing football or camogie.

“It’s just very discouraging. I have heard of players playing U14 being told to choose [between football and camogie], and it’s just… especially not at that age. I do understand if you come to minor or senior and there might be a reason where you should be playing one or the other, whether it’s that you’re better at one or prefer one, but if you are able to play the two at a high level and look after yourself, and you want to play two, that door should always be open.”

Looney is speaking in Croke Park following the announcement that McKeever Sports have received the GAA licence to manufacture official club and county playing kit, adding to the LGFA and Camogie licenses they already held.

On a morning centered around talking about the quality and cut of sports kits, Looney uses a simple example of how women’s sport has often trailed behind, pointing out that it is only a few years since women’s teams often found themselves tying back oversized jerseys with hair-ties.

While things have been steadily improving, there is still much work to be done.

“Luckily in Cork ladies football we have a really, really good set-up,” she continues.

“We have physios, we have doctors… Anything we want, it’s there for us. There’s food after training, there’s gear. With camogie, it’s kind of coming the last couple of years, but like, we don’t get fed after training. I think that’s a huge thing. Physio now is becoming better, but it’s just the basics. That’s all that we really want. I think a huge thing is just support. Women should support our own sport first, and getting as much support and attention to the game as possible.”

The work being done by campaigns like 20×20 has also been massively helpful in terms of making women’s sport a prominent feature in the media.

“I think a big part of the campaign is making it visible, making all these great sportswomen visible to younger girls, and hopefully keeping them involved. I think the big age gap is 13 and 14-year-olds, where distractions come in the way, so [it's about] keeping those involved and keeping a big profile for the game.

“It’s huge, but there’s so much more to do though, to be fair. When you look at the lads and what they get, it can eat at you a small bit, but I suppose we’re all in it for our own reasons. A lot of strides have been made so hopefully they can keep improving.”

Her passion for the issue is clear, and can be traced back to her own childhood days and dreams of playing for Cork.

For a young girl with an interest in both codes, her sporting heroes will come as no surprise.

“Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley. Full stop. All I wanted to do was be Briege and Rena. There was many a time I was out in the back garden pretending I was one or the other. 

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“We’ve been fortunate enough to have the female role models [in Cork]. When you talk to a lot of other sports people around my age, they might have looked up to a lot of male players, but I was lucky enough to be able to look up to see the girls winning All-Irelands and following them along the way.”

The importance of having those role models is clear. A few years on from nervously asking Corkery and Buckley for their autographs – she still has the autograph book at home – Looney was lining out alongside them as a teammate.

“I was really, really lucky, and I think I’ll always hold on to that, that I’ve had the opportunity to play with Rena and Briege. 

“Being involved, especially those first couple of years where you are kind of just tagging along and finding your feet, and you’re like ‘Oh, Jesus they are actually talking to me, what do I say?’ or ‘I hope I pass them the ball right.’

“But you know, they were so welcoming. Their goal is to win an All-Ireland, they think nothing less, so to buy into that attitude so young, I think it really stands to me.

“They are just really, really good sportspeople, and what I love about them is when they are on the pitch, they are totally focused on what they are doing. Then when they are off the pitch they are just themselves, and complete characters. I’ve learned so much from them on and off the field. I don’t think they get enough credit for what they have done. They’ve won 18 All-Irelands, that’s phenomenal like! And we don’t hear enough about it. 

“I’m really, really lucky that I’ve had them to look up to, and that they paved the way for me to play dual. And all the Cork ladies football team, we’ve had so many great people to look up to. Geraldine O’Flynn, Juliet Murphy to name a few. Then Gemma O’Connor and the likes in camogie.” 

Looney, who plays her football with Aghada and camogie with Killeagh, is well on her way to becoming a sporting hero herself, with four All-Irelands in camogie and one football title to her name.

There is a good chance more medals are on the way.

The Cork ladies footballers have made a strong start to their league campaign, winning four from five to sit joint-top of Division 1 with Galway, while the Cork camogie team are two from two.

Looney has played her part for both sides, and is grateful her managers, Ephie Fitzgerald and Paudie Murray, trust her in terms of managing her schedule.

Yet there are new challenges ahead. Having recently finished college, this will be the first summer where Looney tries to balance both codes alongside her job as a chemical engineer.

“I just think that I’m fortunate enough to have that good relationship where I can say, ‘Look, I’m tired tonight, might it be best if I can rest?’ Or ‘Look, I think my football hasn’t been going well, can I go football training instead of camogie?’

“I think it’s really important to have your personal life and to switch off between work and sport as well. So I’m trying to just get that balance at the moment and not over-exert myself on that field. But so far so good.

“I’m lucky managers facilitate to balance both as long as I am fresh and getting the most out of myself.”  

Hannah Looney was speaking in Croke Park as McKeever Sports announced it has secured the official GAA licence to manufacture official club and county playing kit and leisurewear.

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