One day we hope to sell out Croke Park for our All-Ire­land fi­nals

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - LADIES FOOTBALL - MARIE HICKEY Marie Hickey is pres­i­dent of the LGFA

OUR first ever All-Ire­land fi­nal took place in Dur­row, in 1974, when Tip­per­ary and Of­faly were the last two coun­ties stand­ing from the eight who took part. Ladies foot­ball has come a long way since then.

To­day, we host our fi­nals in Croke Park and our three cham­pi­onships are con­tested by 34 coun­ties — in­clud­ing Lon­don and Lan­cashire. When our as­so­ci­a­tion was es­tab­lished at Hayes Ho­tel in July of 1974, I doubt if those present would have dreamed how far we would come in such a com­par­a­tively short time. For in­stance, 12 years af­ter the es­tab­lish­ment of the LGFA, we hosted our first All-Ire­land fi­nal in Croke Park. This was a mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion for the sport which un­til that time had been marginalised, but once we saw the ladies of Kerry and Wex­ford take to that field there was no longer any choice but to take the sport se­ri­ously.

The Kerry team that con­tested the first fi­nal in Croke Park em­barked on an era of dom­i­nance which saw them win nine ti­tles in a row. Amongst their team was the great Mary Jo Cur­ran, re­garded as one of the best play­ers of all time who even­tu­ally re­tired with 10 All-Ire­land ti­tles and 11 All-Stars.

Some­thing those in­volved in the foun­da­tion of ladies foot­ball re­alised was that there must be foot­ball for those out­side the top coun­ties. The ju­nior cham­pi­onship was in­tro­duced in 1985 to give those coun­ties mean­ing­ful matches with the pos­si­bil­ity of All-Ire­land glory. The first fi­nal at this grade was con­tested by Gal­way and Cork. In­ci­den­tally, this was the only cham­pi­onship fi­nal that Cork have lost.

Ladies foot­ball con­tin­ued to grow in pop­u­lar­ity as more and more coun­ties en­tered the cham­pi­onship, and in or­der to fa­cil­i­tate this growth the in­ter­me­di­ate grade was in­tro­duced in 1997.

In­ter-county foot­ball is the pin­na­cle of our game but it is just the tip of the ice­berg. Only a tal­ented and for­tu­nate few will ever have the hon­our of pulling on their county jer­sey but with a mem­ber­ship of over 180,000, the vast ma­jor­ity of our mem­bers are not com­pet­ing at that elite level. We pride our­selves on pro­vid­ing the op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­one to play foot­ball which is why we have in­tro­duced our so­cial foot­ball pro­grammes. Of these, our Gaelic 4 Moth­ers& Oth­ers pro­gramme has been an in­cred­i­ble suc­cess.

This pro­gramme has given women an op­por­tu­nity to en­joy all the ben­e­fits that sport has to of­fer with­out the com­pe­ti­tion tied into club and county foot­ball. It is non-com­pet­i­tive, a purely so­cial out­let. It helps women stay ac­tive away from the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of work and fam­ily and al­lows them to en­joy an hour of laugh­ter and ex­er­cise. Each year there is a na­tional blitz that brings teams from all around the coun­try to­gether for a cel­e­bra­tion of sport. Over 100 teams — 2,000 women — came to Naomh Mearnóg and St Sylvester’s in Dublin to take part in the blitz. Scores are not kept, it is just a joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion of all that is good about sport. I think other gov­ern­ing bod­ies that for­get about their play­ers once they fin­ish com­pet­i­tive sport can learn from it.

As mile­stones go, there have been few more im­por­tant than the part­ner­ship en­tered into with TG4 in 2001 when they be­came ti­tle spon­sors of our cham­pi­onship and be­gan tele­vis­ing our matches. This part­ner­ship brought our game into the liv­ing rooms of fam­i­lies through­out the coun­try on a weekly ba­sis. The re­turn for TG4 was im­me­di­ate as their first tele­vised fi­nal was one of the all-time greats when Laois fi­nally won the All-Ire­land af­ter los­ing seven fi­nals in a run dat­ing back to 1988. The man­ner of their win over Mayo was also mem­o­rable, with a last-gasp free de­cid­ing the out­come.

Our part­ner­ship with TG4 has en­sured that some great mo­ments in our sport have been wit­nessed by sup­port­ers through­out the coun­try. Mo­ments like Mayo’s back-to-back wins in 2002/’03, Cork’s first All-Ire­land fi­nal win in 2005, Dublin’s only win in 2010 and pos­si­bly the most fa­mous fi­nal of all time in 2014 as Cork mounted a thrilling come­back against Dublin.

Last year, we wel­comed our big­gest ever at­ten­dance — 34,500. This was the most-at­tended fe­male sport­ing event in Europe for the sec­ond year in a row. Nat­u­rally, we are de­lighted with how the sport has been pro­gress­ing but no­body will be rest­ing on their lau­rels.

We have also en­joyed dra­matic growth in­ter­na­tion­ally that has seen ladies Gaelic foot­ball spread far beyond our own is­land. In two of the last three years the num­ber of fe­male par­tic­i­pants in the Asian Gaelic Games has out­num­bered that of the men. In­deed the cur­rent cham­pi­ons of the in­ter­me­di­ate grade of the Asian Games are a Ja­panese team which does not in­clude even one Ir­ish per­son in their panel.

As an As­so­ci­a­tion, there is more we want to achieve as we con­tinue to grow this great sport. Chief amongst these is to some day sell out Croke Park on All-Ire­land fi­nal day. We also want to see more peo­ple at­tend the early rounds of our cham­pi­onship and league. We want to at­tract more part­ners like TG4 and Lidl who want to be as­so­ci­ated with this great sport. But, most im­por­tantly, we want to en­sure we con­tinue to en­cour­age Ir­ish girls and women to take part in sport gen­er­ally and Gaelic foot­ball par­tic­u­larly.

Sport is about more than just com­pe­ti­tion, it is also about en­joy­ment and feel­ing you are part of a com­mu­nity. We will work to en­sure that we con­tinue to give every fe­male the op­por­tu­nity to be in­volved in this great game.

Nat­u­rally we are de­lighted with how the sport has pro­gressed

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