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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 27 October 2020
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'Ladies footballers need to be offered more... travel expenses could be a start'

But it’s up to players to ask for more too, says Monaghan midfielder Muireann Atkinson.

IT WAS A standard press conference huddle to begin with: chat about the county set-up, the new manager, retaining silverware with the college, club, balancing it all.

So on and so forth, a run of the mill procedure.

Armagh v Monaghan - TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Group 2 Round 1 Muireann Atkinson: 'It’s as if we’re so used to not getting it, we don’t ask for it.' Source: Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE

Monaghan and DCU star Muireann Atkinson then got talking about the recent AFLW trial she was on with the Cross Coders programme in Melbourne, and everything got a little more interesting.

She spoke of how eye-opening it was to see the professional lifestyle out there, and how that is the dream.

“It’s just the professional lifestyle that attracts me to it,” she said, explaining how she’d like to get a further taste for it in a few years’ time.

“I think it would attract most ladies footballers. You know, you’re getting paid to play which is class. It’s a full-time job, it’s what you enjoy doing and it gives you a chance to reach your full, max potential as well.”

So yes, she could 100% see a lot more female Irish players going to Australia.

It’s brought to her attention that about 10 or 15 years ago in the men’s game, people thought that there might be a tipping point where the AFL would completely harvest Gaelic football. It didn’t quite happen like that, but what about the ladies’ game?

“I think it might,” she says, “because men get a lot of perks in Gaelic football now compared to women still. I know it’s growing but there’s still a big, massive gap there.

“For men to leave their set-up, they’re leaving sponsorship deals, they’re getting major travel expenses and they’re getting huge publicity. Whereas ladies footballers, there’s maybe 10 high profile players but what about the rest of them, they’re not getting that many perks.

“So, why wouldn’t they go over when they’re not getting paid? Ladies footballers probably need to be offered more here in Ireland if they want us to stay.”

When you say getting offered more, what do you mean specifically?

“Well, travel expenses could be a start,” the 22-year-old responds immediately. “You know, you sit down for a meeting at the start of the year and state the things, the expectations that you want from players and it comes to a point where you’re saying, ‘What are we getting out of it?’

Gourmet Food Parlour 2019 HEC Ladies Football Championship Launch Monaghan and DCU midfielder Muireann Atkinson.

“We love the game and that’s why we play it, the friendships we make and the memories and the winning is so great but it costs us money to play this game now. You’re training five nights a week.

“We’re getting there by our car and petrol money, all this sort of stuff. If [we] could break even playing it, it would be a bonus. The men are making a fortune off travel expenses.”

Do you think that’s something if it was all the one organisation….

“Could be sorted?” Atkinson jumps in.

Is the excuse there that the money’s not there?

“The money’s not there yeah but it’s also up to us players,” she continues. “I don’t think we ask for enough. It’s as if we’re so used to not getting it, we don’t ask for it.

“If we asked for more, you don’t know what we’d get. If we ask for less, we’re obviously not going to get it. It’s up to us to keep asking for more and more and we might get it.

“The one organisation, I don’t know. I feel that camogie might get hidden a little bit in the GAA. Ladies football is very much out there. We have our own brand and name and it can be seen far and wide and it is growing and growing.

“They just need to keep in mind to take care of their players a bit more.”

Atkinson says that it has been said to the Monaghan county board that the players want travel expenses, but nothing has come off their efforts.

“You’re in continuous negotiations with them,” she explains. “They always say that they’re trying their best and the money’s not there. I feel county boards don’t ask people enough; they don’t ask businesses for money.

“Bigger fundraisers… fundraisers often happen in ladies football coming up to a final whereas you should have fundraising season in the off-season. Players, we’re focused on playing at that stage [before finals].

Monaghan v Westmeath - Lidl Ladies Football National League Division 1 Round 6 The Monaghan team in 2018. Source: SPORTSFILE

“They’re giving out that we’re not contributing to the fundraisers but our job is to play. In the off-season, we’d be more than helpful in contributing to fundraisers, trying to get the word out there.

“Once you’re coming up to championship and league, your focus as a player is on trying to perform as best as possible, not on fundraising for a committee.”

When asked how the situation in the Farney county compares to other ladies set-ups around the country, Atkinson is hesitant at first to say too much because she doesn’t know the ins and outs. 

“Well, I can’t speak for other counties but there’s definitely a separation between the lower divisions and the higher divisions. I suppose if you’re performing at a higher level and being recognised as a team, you’re going to get more.

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“If you’re out there and you’re winning finals, as is the case with Dublin and Cork, I’m sure they get a hell of a lot more than the teams in Division Two, Three and Four.

 ”You have to hand it to them, they are winning. They’re going away on team holidays and stuff like this but they deserve it because they put in the hard work and are getting the rewards. You can’t say there’s segregation because there is that in the men’s [game] as well.

“Obviously, Dublin men are up there getting treated like royalty and Division Four teams aren’t but they are winning so you can’t say, ‘They don’t deserve it.’ They’re winning so you can’t blame them for reaping the rewards.”

She refers to team holidays there and minutes earlier, at the same event –  the Gourmet Food Parlour HEC Ladies Football Championship launch — Dublin star forward Niamh McEvoy explained that the back-to-back All-Ireland champions fundraised for their recent skiing trip to Andorra.

“We had a corporate lunch and a golf classic during the year,” the three-time champion said. “Places like Gourmet [Food Parlour] have been very good in sponsoring us. Obviously we’re aware that being successful was a big help.”

That’s put to Atkinson and she accepts it.

“That’s just a tribute to what the county board in Dublin are doing,” the midfielder continues. “They’re taking that upon themselves.

“I suppose it’s full of leaders and maybe Monaghan needs more leaders in the county board to keep pushing the boundaries, keep asking for more and more and more.

“There hasn’t been anything to that scale in Monaghan yet but I suppose from a players’ point of view, we need to push it a little bit more.”

Over the past few weeks, months and years, ladies footballers and camogie players have spoken out about unfair conditions and Atkinson agrees that they feel a certain responsibility to speak up about these issues when they get the platform.

“Obviously, there wouldn’t be many events like this,” she concludes. “When you get the opportunity, you need a voice, you need to voice it and say what’s in your head, most importantly.

“If you keep all these thoughts to yourself, they’re never going to get fixed. The more people that speak out, the better.”

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