IN A mirror of the GAA Congress held recently, there will be a hint of a farewell party about the Annual Congress of the Camogie Association, when it takes place at the Mount Juliet Hotel in Kilkenny on April 6th and 7th.
The GAA had an outgoing President, Aogán Ó Fearghaíl, and an Ard Stiúrthóir, Páraic Duffy, attending their Congress for the last time in those specific roles at least, and so it is with the Camogie Association, as Catherine Neary draws the curtain down on her successful three-year term as President.
Meanwhile, Ard Stiúrthóir Joan O’Flynn, herself a former President, announced last week that she would be stepping down from her role as Ard Stiúrthóir having driven significant progress within the Camogie Association since her appointment in 2013.
It is appropriate that both Congresses share a similar narrative, given that the GAA and Camogie Association have moved to formally recognise the natural links between them.
A draft Memorandum of Understanding was drawn up by the Associations last month and is subject to approval by each Central Council, with the Camogie Association considering it tonight (Wednesday March 14th) and the GAA set to deliberate the matter on March 24th.
O’Flynn is very positive about the Memorandum.
“The Joint Memorandum is a statement on the future of Gaelic Games and a statement about the future of young people in Gaelic Games” she writes in her last Annual Report.
“Implementing the Memorandum through building a united entity for our mutual benefit, in a way acceptable to both, is an idea whose time has come and is a sensible next step to strengthen the experience, profile and wellbeing of our game, and Gaelic Games overall.”
The report is a comprehensive and in-depth document, in which O’Flynn highlights the unprecedented levels of recognition Camogie is now receiving, the improvement in coaching and playing standards, the increase in financial investment, the rising participation rates, vastly improved media exposure and growing attendances.
The Camogie Association has increased its investment in broadcasting which meant that the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Quarter-Finals were televised live for the first time by RTÉ, while there was a 14% increase in peak TV viewing during the Senior Final, from 328,000 to 374,000.
Taken in conjunction with the recording of the fourth highest attendance at the Camogie Finals since 1932 of 20,793, it is evident that the investment increasing the profile of the game is paying dividends.
Most importantly, this is manifesting itself at grassroots level, where the interest in playing Camogie is greater than ever before, as evidenced by the formation of 18 new clubs in 2017, bringing the total number in Ireland to 567.
Cultivating a better environment for players on and off the pitch is one of the chief priorities for the Camogie Association.
O’Flynn highlights the growing emphasis on player welfare and the appointment of a full-time Player Welfare Co-ordinator for the first time in May 2017, to develop and manage player welfare support initiatives at club and county levels within Camogie.
Some of the key issues that emerged from a substantive survey of club players were concerns relating to burnout and lack of supports such as access to physios, and strength and conditioning coaches.
Of those surveyed, 34.6% felt that they often or always had three or more symptoms of burnout. These symptoms included “feelings of intense fatigue”, “felt vulnerable to infection” and “felt detached from family and friends”.
Of those playing with three teams in 2017, 62.4% said that they often or always experienced three or more symptoms of burnout. For players playing with more than three teams, that increased to 71.4%.
It was notable that 68.3% of the players surveyed stated that they seldom, hardly ever or never had access to a physio, while 78.6% stated that they seldom, hardly ever or never had access to a strength and conditioning coach.
The report asserts the Camogie Association’s commitment to improving the standard of coaching at all levels. In 2017, 897 Camogie coaches were accredited and 10 new coach education tutors were accredited in conjunction with Sport Ireland Coaching.
The Association has adopted a new mandatory policy that all coaches involved with underage (Under 18) players must have a minimum of the basic Foundation Level coaching qualification.
An encouraging point to note from the survey of players was that 68.2% of them were most comfortable approaching fellow teammates for mental health support, although this does emphasise the need for clubs to provide a more formal resource in this regard.
The report also stressed the requirement that all clubs and county boards of the Camogie Association must now have a Children’s Officer, in a move to strengthen the infrastructure for child safeguarding. Any Club or County Board that does not will be debarred from any underage activity until the position is filled.
The report also noted the extensive funding that Camogie units successfully drew down from the Government’s National Sports Capital fund. Sports Capital grants have facilitated the development of county grounds in Clare,Cork, Dublin and Galway while 19 clubs received funding of almost half a million euro to help with pitches, hurling walls, dressing rooms etc.
Kathleen Woods, who was elected unopposed at last year’s Congress, will take the baton from Neary in Kilkenny as the new President of the Camogie Association, becoming the first person from Armagh to hold the position.