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Opinion: Turn those angry tweets into bums on seats

There’s more hurling to be done in Croke Park this Sunday.

Sinéad O'Carroll

DID YOU TWEET indignantly about the coverage (or lack thereof) of Ireland’s women’s rugby team’s achievements in France over the summer?

Have you bemoaned their lack of funding? Or that of their female counterparts in other sports?

Maybe you read a column about ‘girlz in the scrum’ (just an example from the top of my head) and got angry?

If you did, somebody probably replied to you, arguing that those sports won’t get coverage until women start attending games played by those of the same gender. Somebody else probably told you that the TV cameras will follow the crowds. And another shouted as loud as they could that women aren’t as fast, don’t hit as hard or can’t jump as high as men, so why bother watching them try?

We could discuss the rights and wrongs of those views in 140 characters between now and the next Olympic Games. Or we could talk about them on chat shows, giving air time to talking about women’s sports rather than actually showing them.

I fully believe that for our games to grow, we need a more substantial effort from broadcasters, editors and policymakers to play fair with their coverage and money. We need to encourage young girls into sport and, for that, they need to see their heroes regularly. Not just once a year, or once every four years. Realistically, there is probably not even a handful of girls in primary school right now who could even consider making a (paid) career out of their sporting talents.

But, those arguments listed above, patronising as they may be, just might touch on an awkward truth. It isn’t just the media who has responsibility here. We do too.

The public does need to row behind women’s teams if they want RTÉ, Setanta and Sky Sports to turn up consistently to the action with their lights and cameras.

I don’t want to get into ‘clicktivism’ here but is it good enough to tweet your support and your kind words?

This weekend, 15 athletes will line out in the black and amber of Kilkenny in Croke Park, ready to face a formidable opposition from Munster. These hurlers won’t be going for their 35th All-Ireland title. In fact, they’ll be aiming to become champions for the first time in 20 years.

They will face a team fighting to get back the O’Duffy Cup, a trophy which called Cork home for five years in the ’00s.

Both teams have contested – and lost – the past two All-Ireland finals against different opposition. In the summer of 2013, there was an epic semi-final between the sides, who eventually were separated by just a single point.

It will be a game that all sports fans can get on board with.

So, do I need to mention these hurlers are women and that the game is the 2014 Liberty Insurance All Ireland Senior Camogie Final? It doesn’t seem too relevant given that back story.

Last weekend, we saw 81,000 people bring colour and emotion to Croke Park for the men’s equivalent. Some of that number will have been fanatical all-year-round, including the 7,000 who attended the Tipperary training sessions during the week. Or the parents who haven’t missed a game since their young lads were in shinguards and size 3s.

Others, though, may not have known their Bubbles from their Bonners. They were along for the ride, the momentous conclusion (well…), the day out in Dublin. Whatever their reason, they were all welcome. We all want crowds to celebrate our national games.

Incidentally, it looked to me like there were just as many women and girls as there were men and boys filling the blue seats on Sunday.

Everybody enjoyed the occasion. This weekend will be the same. (Although tickets will be cheaper and easier to get your hands on.)

Turn those tweets into bums on seats.

If every man and woman who eye-rolled at *that* column, or tweeted about the lack of coverage for the ladies, decided to make their way to Clonliffe Road on Sunday we’d be sure for a great turnout.

Let’s do it. Let’s turn up in our droves. For the women reading this, we can prove that we do support each other. In all our endeavours. For the men, maybe you’ll be discovering a new sport. A new team to support? Surely you’ve been jealous of those Brits getting to watch hurling for the first time?

You can meet dual-star Rena Buckley, winner of All-Ireland medals and All-Stars in both codes, and another class Fennelly from Kilkenny. Check out what all the hype about Ashling Thompson has been about. You might see the Cork Rose of Tralee Anna Geary pick up the cup and deliver a cúpla focal again.

“You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores.”

Oh, and one more thing. We shouldn’t be in the business of judging people on what they look like during sports games. Whether they are playing or spectating.

One of the grating aspects of the summer’s coverage centred – to much criticism – on how players look when they line out.

Another column, trying to argue against the idea of having to look ‘like a girl’, was just as exasperating. It pointed to the fact that the ‘real female fans’ wear jerseys and shout a lot.

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That is not a universal truth.

What I’m getting at here is summed up in the words of Ms Norbury (Mean Girls reference dictionary): “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores.”

Wear a jersey. Wear your high heels. Paint your face black and amber. Or paint it with MAC. Some of the girls on the field might have fake tan on. Others won’t. Nobody should notice. Nobody should care.

In fact, there’s no such thing as a ‘real’ fan. You won’t be defrauding anybody by turning up and not knowing that we take 45 metre frees and not 65s. Or that the ball is called a sliotar. As the GAA itself says, ‘Nothing beats being there.’

In saying that, camogie may not be the game for you. You might find it as boring as you find hurling. Because, we don’t – and can’t possibly – all like the same things.

It’s a long-running joke among all who know me that I don’t ‘hear’ music too well. But I enjoy the occasional gig, even though I’m out of my depth and not sure what that guy with the ginger beard is doing with the computer on stage (memories from my last show).

But we can’t dismiss passion. And we owe it to each other to give it a go and applaud each our efforts from time to time.

If you make Sunday your first GAA or camogie experience, I bet you enjoy it. For the colour, the excitement, the passion, the skill, the celebrations of the champions, the disappointment of the losers. The stories. The emotion.

And, just in case we’re unclear about what I’m saying here, I don’t find the idea of women playing sports as remarkable. It is certainly no longer unusual. It actually hasn’t been unusual for a long, long time. (We – as in the collective media – are just a little bit behind on it in Ireland.)

That’s why Serena Williams got just as much coverage as Marin Cilic earlier this week. That’s why Jessica Ennis was the face of London 2012. That’s why soccer in America was, for many, associated mostly with women. That’s why a confused young boy in Kildare recently asked his aunt why some men he had just seen with hurls for the first time were playing camogie.

Sport has always been as much about the story as it is about being the fastest, fittest, highest or strongest. It’s about the adversities we overcome, the work we’ve put in, the teams we’ve built. It’s about where we get to – and how we got there.

Somebody’s about to write the last chapter of their latest book on Sunday. Don’t judge it by its cover.

Cork take on Kilkenny in the Liberty Insurance All Ireland Senior Camogie Final in Croke Park on Sunday at 4pm. Get your tickets here. There are also two other games – the Intermediate Final between Limerick and Kilkenny and the Premier Junior will be fought out by Down and Laois.

More: Katie Taylor on coverage of women’s sport: What more do we have to do?

See: Brilliant pics as 6 players chase glory ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland camogie finals

About the author:

Sinéad O'Carroll

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