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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 21 May, 2019
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'Until the same respect is shown to the women’s game, nothing will change'

Camogie star Mags D’Arcy calls on the GAA to take the women’s games under its wing.

ON FIRST ENCOUNTER with Mags D’Arcy, she comes across as a right joker.

Mags D'Arcy Wexford camogie star Mags D'Arcy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

She’s that person in the room that everyone wants to talk to. The one that everyone wants to have a laugh with.

And it’s no wonder. She’s a character.

The Wexford goalkeeper won the hearts of the audience as a panellist at the #SupportHerSport conference earlier today.

“You’re opening another can of fish … or can of worms or whatever you want to call it,” she responds to one of Joanne Cantwell’s questions, as the crowd erupts with laughter.

“You can have any can you like. I need the same up here today I think, a few cans!”

Her sense of humour comes naturally. Her glowing personality is evident from the minute she opens her mouth.

She came out with several other witty one-liners and jokes throughout the day, but when the conversation turns serious, D’Arcy means business.

On the stage during the panel discussion, she spoke at length about the progress that has been made over the last few years regarding gender equality in sport.

It’s come a long way, but there’s a lot more to be done. It’s the recurring theme of the day.

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“The game itself has changed — the speed, the skill-set, the efficiency and how the ball is utilised has changed — and that means that we require more resources and facilities and infrastructure to keep that standard up,” the two-time All-Star and four-time All-Ireland senior camogie champion says as she addresses the crowd.

“In terms of on a national level, has the game developed? Yes, the Camogie Association are doing a lot of work, the partnership with Liberty Insurance has brought us on a great deal and given us as much exposure as we can get.

But I really think the next natural progression would be obviously the amalgamation with the GAA.

They’ve already taken a welcome step in Wexford. Following the opening of a Centre of Excellence, the county boards came together.

“We’re very lucky in Wexford, we’ve a fabulous county board who basically amalgamated with the men’s section. It was just a natural progression. There are four pitches, so why not? It was actually last Friday, we had Davy Fitz and the hurlers on one pitch and we were training next door. They got their hot food given to them and we got our hot showers and went home.”

More laughter from the crowd. There may still be a barrier between the genders, but it’s progress.

“We’re still given the same facilities and the basics for what we need. It was a crime bringing all the wasted food out into the bin, and we were there saying ‘can we have a little bit of that?’

That’s just the way it was, and the way it is. It is a crying shame because we have so many resources, why don’t we just put it all under one umbrella? It won’t cost that much to bring us in, it really wouldn’t. All the infrastructure is there, all the resources are there, financially it’s there.

“As a current player, and as a player 10 years ago, I would have liked to have seen it 10 years ago and I’m still talking about it now. That’s where I’d like to see the game going.

“Maybe us, which we do at the moment, playing some matches before the men. But I’d like to see a total restructure where our county is in the same championship as the men. If the lads are going to play Limerick away, so are the women.

“It would have to be totally wiped and looked at again, I know. And that’s scary.

“We just need to be rash, we just need to just do it because we’re going to have the same conversation in 10 years if we don’t.”

As the panel discussion wraps up, there are whispers around the room.

“Mags is a great character isn’t she? We were saying earlier, she should have her own chat show!”

She smiles for photographs, jokes around with the other three ambassadors — Annalise Murphy, Natalya Coyle and Fiona Coghlan — and chats away to the young competition winner of a meet-and-greet competition.

Mags D'Arcy D'Arcy in action for Wexford. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Then come the media interviews.

“I love talking about myself,” she laughs as she tells The42. “No, I don’t at all like. And I hate talking negatively. This kind of stuff, the stats say a lot and people can perceive them from a negative viewpoint but you have to try and take the positive out of it, that’s all you can do.”

A few stories here and there about her youth and her granny re-watching the 2007 camogie All-Ireland final over and over again, and we’re back to the amalgamation business.

It’s all well and good saying it needs to be done, but is it really feasible?

“If we come back to that original thing I was talking about, a full amalgamation, and put a cap on funding for counties, it will not only sort out the whole issue of Dublin going unbeaten the last 33 games, but if there’s a cap it gives opportunity for sponsorship to be funnelled into other counties.

“Therefore, resources and financial backing would go into other counties. Therefore, the standard of play will come up. If you take that model and then you amalgamate the women’s game underneath it, than those resources are mainstream to all four codes — ladies football, camogie, hurling and Gaelic football — there’s more of a working relationship between the four codes, therefore we can utilise each other’s resources and utilise pitches together, and utilise funding for hydration and nutrition and that aspect of things.

Looking out at it, it’s like ‘ah this looks so scary’, but it just needs to be done. Sometimes as a leader, you just need to do things and say sorry afterwards, but you’re doing it for the betterment.

“If I’m up here in 10 years’ time, and you’re sitting down there, listening to me talk about it again, just say ‘Mags, game over’.

“If people are fed the same message day in, day out, it’s going to become sterile, they’re not going to listen to it. That’s what we’re doing at the moment, we’re banging on about the lack of hot showers, travel facilities — it’s just the same message.

“All you’re getting off the general public, it’s like ‘what do they expect, the attendance isn’t there, of course they’re not getting the money’ and you’re going ‘all right, does anyone have a valuable solution to this?’ And would that solution not be to amalgamate and give them the same level of coverage — we’re not looking for profile — level of coverage and then the general public can make up their mind whether or not the value of the game should be where it’s at.”

Attendance at female sports events is a huge topic of conversation throughout the day.

One statistic jumped out straight away: three in four people have not attended a major female sporting event in the last year.

“Attendance comes back to being on the same platform, having the same exposure, having the same production team covering matches,” D’Arcy continues.

She casts her mind back to a 90-second clip that was televised a few years ago, of a championship match between her side and Offaly: “It was like ‘Nationwide’ came down and covered the match. It was horrific, a championship match and there was 20 seconds of camogie. The rest was all just Birr, everything but the bloody match.

Natalya Coyle, Fiona Coghlan, Annalise Murphy and Mags D'Arcy Natalya Coyle, Fiona Coghlan, Annalise Murphy and Mags D'Arcy launching the Liberty Insurance 'A Game of Two Halves' research. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I actually sat there going ‘I’d rather have nothing than have that crap thrown on TV’. This isn’t anything against RTÉ. The associations have to say ‘no, that’s not good enough. We need four minutes of exposure.’

“And this comes back to playing the games coinciding with each other. You’ll have the camera angles that represent the skill-set and the skill level for both men’s and women’s because it’s not captured the same.

“You have the HD catching and the turning strike, if you got that at a camogie game and you virally put that around the world, people would go ‘holy sh*t, what’s this game? And women play this. Why don’t we play this over here? This is incredible.’

Until the same respect is shown to the women’s game, and women are given the same platform and the same autonomy and level of exposure, this will not happen. It’s only when they come together, amalgamate, jump in the bed with the lads and get it on.

Out comes the joker amid the seriousness. But not for long.

“I like sense. Maybe I’m not talking sense, but that’s my opinion. That seems to make sense to me. Why waste our time on me going off, I hate the word feminist, but people won’t listen to me if I keep banging on.

This is a solution to solve the problem, and is this not what we want? We just need to sit up, wake up and stop giving out and just do something about it. We need to swallow our pride, some people need to maybe swallow their pride in positions of authority and do what’s best for players.

The LGFA and the Camogie Association however, do thrive on having their own identity, being their own respective organisations.

And D’Arcy respects that. She acknowledges their incredible work and achievements since their foundation, but as the cliché goes, change is good.

“I think we all need to swallow a bit of pride here and just enter 2017, and give the people who you’re actually working for a chance. I don’t want exposure, I don’t want any of this. I want the kids in 10 years’ time to have this level of exposure, and their kids to have role models to look up to.

If we don’t change society and their perspective of women in sport, it’s just going to stay the same.

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Emma Duffy

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