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'They thought it was just unbelievable and they were going back to Norway broadcasting Irish sport'

In the final part of The42′s interview with Camogie Association CEO Sinéad McNulty, she talks about the momentum currently behind the game itself and its future direction.

THE GAME IS wonderful. It’s skilful, artistic to watch.

If you look at our semi-finals and our finals last year for example, you compare that to any sport in the world and they will hold your attention. It’s a super, super game.

It’s really helping more people to see the game because when they see it, they love it. 

- Camogie Association CEO Sinéad McNulty

a-view-of-the-record-attendance-at-todays-game A view of the record attendance at last year's All-Ireland camogie final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

One story McNulty tells sums it up.

Ahead of last year’s All-Ireland finals day in Croke Park, the camogie chief met some tourists from Norway. They had never been to Ireland, let alone never seen or heard of the sport of camogie.

They were given one or two complimentary tickets to the national deciders by the Association, and they purchased a few more before enjoying the three games on show.

“Wow, what an amazing sport,” read an email to McNulty afterwards.

She told The42: “They thought it was just unbelievable and they were going back to Norway broadcasting Irish sport. It was fantastic.

It is really about getting eyes on the game and for our own members and people to realise how important it is that they are promoters of our game as well, that they have a role in showcasing what we do, in talking about what we do, in telling people about what we do and in bringing people to see it if they’re not already there.

“Coming up to the All-Ireland last year, one of my colleagues said, ‘If every member of the Association came to our All-Ireland final day, we’d fill Croke Park’ — and that’s without social distancing or anything else!”

Visibility is hugely important, particularly for women in sport these days. As the 20×20 slogan goes, ‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it,’ and McNulty wholeheartedly agrees.

For camogie, it’s about building on that going forward and bringing the game to a new level.

There is serious momentum behind it across the length and breadth of the country between the record attendance at last year’s All-Ireland finals, increased television and media coverage which in turn, brings a higher interest; successful trial rules, increasing participation and exciting opportunities such as the introduction of All-Star Tours of late.

It’s a case of onward and upwards now, despite the challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had a fantastic year in 2019,” McNulty nods. “So many people had put so much work in to achieving what we achieved.

We were the highest-viewed women’s sports game watched live on television across Ireland, we had record numbers attending our All-Ireland final but more importantly, we had young people joining the Association and joining their local clubs.

“We had a growth in clubs, we had new games, competitions and programmes up and running to get people involved at all levels, whether that’s coaching, playing or getting involved in administration. We spent a huge amount of time and energy on that.

“2020 was supposed to really build on 2019 and demonstrate then where we wanted to go for the future.”

Yes, the Association has been held back in some ways, but McNulty always looks on the bright side. Things have been achieved through the Covid-19 crisis that may not have been achieved otherwise. The game and participation within, has grown and developed through online education programmes, webinars, meetings and workshops.

The Association’s National Development Plan was also given more thought before its launch, and progress has already been made on some of the aims and objectives within.

kathleen-woods-kari-daniels-and-sinead-mcnulty Kathleen Woods, Camogie Association President, Kari Daniels, CEO Tesco Ireland and Sinead McNulty, Camogie Association CEO. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The plan builds on the foundations of previous roadmaps and work done in the Association, with huge amounts of research done on the ground ahead of the 2020-24 edition. 

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“The four key areas are passion, people, pride and place,” McNulty explains, “and that refers into the game, the volunteers, the identity and the leadership.

“One of the things that people said to me was that they wanted to feel connected to the National Development Plan, to know where we were going, to understand how their club or their role within their club or their county or their province fed into the overall progress of the Association.

That was important. When somebody picks this up, they’re able to say, ‘Well, actually in my club, this is how I can contribute to the game,’ or, ‘This is how I can contribute to volunteering,’ or, ‘This is how I can demonstrate the identity of camogie and how important that is and how we can improve the governance.’

“Everyone can connect to it and everyone knows how they fit and how they contribute to the overall development of the Camogie Association and camogie as a sport in Ireland.”

Revitalising the camogie brand and identity, the provision of appropriate playing facilities for all camogie players and to work collaboratively with the GAA and LGFA as part of the Gaelic Games family are three of the 12 key goals in place to push on over the coming years.

Like most other plans and reports, there’s some complicated language used on shiny, glossy paper but this doesn’t come across as the usual aesthetically-pleasing lip service.

McNulty and the Association mean business. There’s serious momentum behind camogie at the minute, and they want to build on it and grow the game — and as their much-used marketing plug goes, ‘Raise The Bar’. 

Goals must be achieved and challenges met. A research piece will be carried out on an annual basis so year on year, the Association will measure its progress. Again, onward and upwards.

“The motto, reaching your goals and exceeding your expectations, that’s what we want to be doing,” McNulty nods. “It’s about aspiration, it’s about setting what you want to achieve and then reaching above it.

Every year, we will build and build and build. The plan is important now, as we’re coming out of it [lockdown] that people see where we want to go. It may be small change year on year, but ultimately, it’s about building the Association and building across every single level.

“To use project management speak, it’s about outcomes and not outputs. So at the end of every year, we’re not just measuring for example, how many coaches or referees we’ve trained. We’re measuring how many of them are still active in the game, how many of them are coaching or refereeing on a regular basis, how many of them have signed up for additional programmes?

“For our association to grow in the way it can, it’s about planning on the more long term and observing patterns.”

Participation is hugely important, and no place more so that at grassroots level. The people involved are at the heartbeat of it all.

katie-power-and-heather-cooney Kilkenny's Katie Power and Heather Cooney of Galway. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

And that’s the message McNulty wants to hammer home as our in-depth interview winds down.

“Are we keeping people in the game,” is the big question she asks.

“I mean here’s so many people who’ve played camogie over the years, and now is the time we want them to come back into the game. If they stepped away for whatever reason, maybe they changed schools, the didn’t have camogie in college, got into the workforce or had family, come back, play camogie and get involved.

“Whether it’s social camogie, whether it’s just pucking around in the field and or whether you’re getting involved in administration or as a volunteer, referee or coach, we want people to come back to the sport that they love.

“That would be a really big message,” she concludes. “Dig out that passion again if you’ve let it sink into the background for a while and come back to the people who can help you and support you to grow: camogie.

“Work with us. Be proud.”

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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