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'You might get asked 'what do you not like about your appearance?' It is completely irrelevant'

Dublin ladies star Sinéad Aherne talks about some of the stupid questions she has been asked as an athlete.

DUBLIN LADIES STAR Sinéad Aherne wasn’t too shocked as she looked at the archival footage included in the new 20×20 mini documentary.

sinead-aherne Dublin star Sinéad Aherne. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Carrying the title “The Lon Road,” the short video addresses the way women’s sport was perceived in the past, and the choice we have for what will happen in the future.

It opens with an exchange between an interviewer and a group of female athletes in 1986.

The interviewer reads out a letter from a concerned individual, who believes that women catching the ball in their chest would lead to “constant trauma” on the breast tissue and might even result in breast cancer.

Smiles crease across the faces of the players as the contents of the letter are read out, prompting one of them to shut down the argument by saying, “there’s no real danger. That’s just an excuse.”

Later in the video, a clip from 1973 shows a group of rugby players being asked, ‘why rugby?’ 

‘Why any sport?’ is their response.

The video presents other examples of these archaic attitudes and how they still exist today.

“It is powerful in terms of seeing – not that long ago and we have been trying to make progress over a short space of time compared to men’s sport,” says Aherne about the documentary and how the 20×20 campaign aims to change those views.

“That is what really grabs you, the attitudes that have been there, not that long ago.

“It is about trying to change that perception and shift that dial in a shorter space of time. I think we’ve started to make bigger strides in a shorter amount of time in the last few years which is good to see.”

Remarking on those bizarre clips from the 70s and 80s, Aherne adds that she has had to field similar questions during her many years as an athlete.

“Some of the questions we still get are rather hilarious,” says the All-Ireland winning captain and 2018 Player of the Year, who made her senior inter-county debut in 2003.

Source: 20x20 Campaign/YouTube

“Often times you’d get asked questions and I’m thinking to myself there is no way if you had one of the men’s footballers sitting here that you’d be asking that question. 

“You won’t really like me saying this one, but there would be a few questions you always get asked that are put in a context not seeing us as athletes, but more as girls playing sport. ‘Oh isn’t it nice that you are in there’ and ‘great for ye’ type thing as opposed to actual athletes and you are trying to build for performance.

You might get asked a question ‘what kind of shape are you in?’ or ‘what do you not like about your appearance?’ It is completely irrelevant to the fact about what we are doing here.

“Whatever I’m eating I’m eating to perform and to fuel as opposed to look good and all the rest. I still think we have a way to go in terms of that, we are probably in a good way getting to a stage where it is seen as not good enough anymore, to demand more, and ask more of what media are doing, and what we want to see put out there.”

Aherne points out that misconceptions surrounding women’s sport have improved, although there is still some road left to go in completing the transition.

More commentary at games, articles covering the critical analysis of matches as well as pieces that document how the season has unfolded up to this point are needed to offer context to fans who are looking at a game on TV.

“Unless you have that it is very hard to build a following, a relevant following over a longer stream of time,” Aherne explains.

“There just isn’t enough of a hook for people to get invested in the sport, to stick with it. I think the critical analysis in the media, how we show imagery and stuff in the media, the language we use, are all still key questions we need to do more around.”

The format of the 2020 All-Ireland Ladies football championship has been restructured due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year, the senior competition will see four groups of three teams battling it out for the Brendan Martin Cup. The winners of each group will progress to the semi-finals, with reigning champions Dublin drawn into Group 3 alongside Donegal and Waterford.


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sinead-aherne-lifts-the-brendan-martin-cup Aherne lifting the Brendan Martin Cup last year. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The action gets underway at the end of October and will culminate in an All-Ireland decider on Sunday 20 December — the day after the men’s All-Ireland.

“There’s probably quite a long gap between when a team gets out of the semi-final and into the final,” says Aherne, as Dublin prepare for their four-in-a-row tilt.

“Three weeks, it’s probably difficult to generate a bit of momentum when you’ve two games in three weeks in the group stage, then get in, it probably would have been possible to play the semi-finals and finals off in an earlier amount of time.

“I don’t know if it was a case of trying to get a date in Croke Park, that couldn’t be done any earlier. Five days until Christmas, so be it for whoever gets to that final!”

There’s pluses and minuses. I think it probably does take away from the coverage. Last year was a replay so you might not have quite as much coverage the second time around.

“This year, it’s full steam ahead but equally it’s 20 December, I don’t know how much coverage there’s going to be for the two sports at that stage. I think it probably did add to it from the perspective of the atmosphere and the environment of being up in the city watching two matches.

“But, as I said, I’m not sure if people will be able to travel to those games so I don’t know if there’ll be as much of an atmosphere.”

20×20 and KPMG ambassador, Sinéad Aherne, was speaking at the launch of the final chapter of the 20×20 movement, ‘The Future for Women in Sport: Choose What’s Next’.

20×20 is calling on people across the country to choose what comes next for women in sport, encouraging everyone involved in sport to ask questions of ourselves and of society, to shape how the future plays out.

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