OPINION: It’s time for Ladies' and Men's GAA organisations to merge

Sinead Farrell tackles the divide between the organisations that leaves female players fighting for equality

LGFA, GAA, Camogie

Image: Players from Senior Ladies Football and Camogie. ©INPHO/Presseye/Jonathan Porter

"It’s shite being Scottish. We’re the lowest of the low. The scum of the f***ing earth. The most retched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever s**t into civilisation.

"Some people hate the English - I don’t, they’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonised by wankers. Can’t even find a decent culture to be colonised by. We’re ruled by effete arseholes. It’s a shite state of affairs to be in Tommy, and all the fresh air in the world won’t make any f***ing difference."

Apologies for the obscenities folks. Blame Danny Boyle if you’re feeling offended or, preferably, you might just applaud the raw honesty of the dialogue. But there is a valid point in that poignant speech from Mark Renton in Trainspotting that can help explain the issue of inequality within GAA.

In essence, his lament about Great Britain’s colonisation of Scotland is the inverse of what’s afflicting Ladies GAA.

It's an unfortunate reality in 2016 that ladies teams are still trailing streets behind the men’s division, but why are we so surprised? The long existing partition between the organisations has allowed that reality to persist.

Almost every contentious incident between men’s and ladies GAA comes back to the fact that they operate under separate guises. Right now, ladies teams are being inadvertently dictated by the men of the GAA.

It's not because they belong to the same association and just get overlooked when the goodies are being distributed, it's because they're not under the GAA's remit to begin with.

Consider the sports where male and female athletes have a reasonably equal profile: tennis, athletics or MMA. How did these disciplines establish an equal platform for the genders? Because the male and female events run in conjunction with each other.

Granted, the men's and women's tennis professionals are separate, but when it comes to the tournaments, the viewers are exposed to both sets of athletes in fairly equal measure, keeping audience numbers in relatively close contact.

To stop the stagnation of the ladies games, the GAA will have to adopt a similar approach. Ideally, you would have a situation where the women's game would be the curtain-raiser for a men’s game on a regular basis. At the moment, this system only takes place for a few isolated fixtures, but it needs to be much more consistent.

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Indeed, it would probably be a logistical nightmare. It would require fixture committees from both codes to negotiate a timetable that suits, while also giving due consideration to the demands of a multitude of clubs. At present, given the current disharmony between club and inter-county fixture scheduling within their own association, trying to incorporate another branch of the GAA would only degenerate things further.

In any case, the men’s sides are not obliged to agree to double-headers, rendering almost every discussion about equal rights for female players virtually useless. Should they be the good guy and do the decent thing? Absolutely. Will they? I won't hold my breath.

However, if the LGFA and camogie association were to form an alliance with the GAA, well then it’s a different story. Instead of pleading to the GAA’s good graces, the GAA would then have a responsibility to improve the profile of the Ladies game; a responsibility which they have the finances, resources and marketing strength to achieve.

To their credit, the LGFA and camogie association have made huge strides this year in terms of attracting financial investment, and the latter earned a broadcasting berth on RTE television for the All-Ireland finals. All honourable achievements, but internal problems are still harming the players.

Image: Ladies Gaelic Football Association Sponsorship Announcement and National Football League Launch, Croke Park, Dublin 21/1/2016 Division 1 players pictured (L-R) Carla Rowe (Dublin) Aimee Mackin (Armagh) Tracy Leonard (Galway) Aoife McAnespie (Monaghan) and Aislinn Desmond (Kerry) ©INPHO/Gary Carr

Mayo’s Aileen Gilroy was forced to turn to social media in order to get an All-Ireland ticket for this weekend, with Cora Staunton outlining to Balls.ie the lengths that they have to go to in order to try and get to see the biggest men's game of the year.

Gilroy is the same player who put in an outstanding individual display for her county in their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin which required a last minute Sinead Aherne free to settle the tie. Aherne herself even admitted that the free was virtually "a shot to nothing," so there really was an infinitesimally small amount separating the sides at the end of it all. 

But while I sympathise with Gilroy’s situation, the argument backing her right for an All-Ireland ticket from the men’s board hangs upon their charity. And as long as the women's and men's county boards stand independent of each other, there’s always a danger that female players are going to get screwed out of things that they should otherwise be entitled to.

They're at the behest of the men and their whims every time, because they own the pitches and the gyms. Any time a ladies GAA team uses those facilities, you can be certain that it is with the permission of the men's team. Effectively, you’re relying on morals and ethics rather than imposing a duty on clubs to look after their players, no matter the gender.

Until that barrier is removed, all other arguments about apparent mistreatment of ladies teams by the men’s organisation are always likely to be dismissed. It’s a shite state of affairs to be in, but no amount of head-shaking, finger wagging or 'our girls deserve better' rhetoric, is going to make any f***ing difference.

Why we still have divisions within the GAA is a mystery. Perhaps there are worries that if they do decide to merge, that the female players would be pushed even further into the shadows. There might also be concerns about job security within the LGFA and Camogie association should they join with the GAA.

However, while it's worth accounting for those otherwise rational fears, it’s high time we have the discussion.