by Daragh Ó Conchúir
CAMOGIE Association president, Catherine Neary will highlight camogie’s links with the 1916 Rising and the giant strides made by the sport since, when she makes her keynote address today at the association’s Congress in Limerick.
At the end of a week in which the centenary commemorations captured the imagination of the country, Neary invokes the memory of former players who took part in historic events 100 years ago, as well as others with direct family links to the Easter Rising.
One of the positive consequences of the celebrations has been a focus on the role of women in the Rising and Neary emphasises the pride she feels as head of the Camogie Association, at the involvement of some of the sport’s own pioneers.
Bridget Foley is just one example, as a player in the first official game of camogie played between her team Keatings (representing a branch of the Gaelic League established by her brother Risteáird) and Cú Chulainns in Navan on July 17, 1904.
In 1916, she served as a courier between Dublin and Cork for Tomás Mac Curtain and appeared in a number of locations during the week of the Rising, including the GPO.
The Pollard sisters, Kathleen and Josephine were members of the Lorcan O’Toole’s club and were stationed at Jacob’s biscuit factory, under Thomas MacDonagh.
The longest-serving president of the Camogie Association, Mollie Gill and former life president, Agnes O’Farrelly were both members of Cumann na mBan during the rebellion years and it was O’Farrelly who persuaded her friend Lord Ashbourne to donate the Ashbourne Cup for inter-varsity camogie competition in 1915.
Former presidents, Brídín Uí Mhaolagáin and Phyllis Breslin both had close family members involved in the Rising, while the trophy for the All-Ireland senior championship is named after Seán O’Duffy, who fought at the Four Courts.
“Those involved in the founding of the Camogie Association were women and men of great vision” says Neary in the speech to be delivered later today.
“They were people who had a vision of a better Ireland and I acknowledge their contribution not just to camogie but to society in general.
“This year will provide us all with an opportunity to rediscover and remember our past, while commemorating those who have gone before us and eased our path. It provides an opportunity for us to promote the game of camogie as a sport that is open to all and a unique symbol of our culture.”
The Kilkenny woman will also reiterate the association’s commitment to increasing membership and attendances, having been heartened by the 16,000 attendance at last September’s All-Irelands, the highest in five years and an increase of 30% on the previous final.
The successful implementation of the recently-launched development plan ‘Our Sport Our Future’ would ensure progress in this area, helped by the aim of securing a broadcasting deal and pursuing new commercial partners.
While active membership for 2015 increased by 5%, much of the focus of the plan is the retention of players, with a goal of creating a fixture programme conducive to more games on the club scene pinpointed as critical to achieving this.
“It is incumbent on us as an organisation to ensure that our players can participate in a fixture schedule which maximises their opportunity to play as many games as possible at a level that is competitive, age-appropriate and reflects their skill set.
“There has been an increase in the number of intercounty matches across underage to adult levels since 2009. While this development is to be welcomed it does, nonetheless, put pressure on the scheduling of games at club level.
“Given the importance of our clubs and club players to the continued well-being and development of camogie… a review of fixtures planning is scheduled to commence shortly.”
Meanwhile, Cork and Limerick meet in Mallow today (3.30pm) in a play-off to decide who will play Galway in the Irish Daily Star Camogie League Division 1 semi-final.
It is the first play-off taking place following a review of qualification criteria where teams finish level at the end of a round-robin programme.