‘London Ladies football team should get the same treatment as their male counterparts’
That’s according to London Ladies team manager Tommy O’Donoghue who spoke to Sean Moriarty ahead of his team’s clash in the Leinster Semi-Final against Offaly.
With construction of the new stadium at Ruislip due to get planning permission from the Greater London Authority later this year O’Donoghue is hoping that the powers-that-be will allocate more county and club ladies games at London’s headquarters.
While ladies games do take place at The Emerald Grounds they are, more often than not, dealt a raw deal compared to their male counterparts and have to play games very early in the morning when there are few spectators about or during busy times on the calendar they are forced to play at smaller venues.
On other occasions inter-county games involving the London ladies teams have been played at nearby Greenford despite rules dictating that they should be played on closed-in pitches.
O’Donoghue believes that the inclusion of more women’s games at Ruislip will help develop the GAA as a whole on this side of the Irish Sea.
“They need to open up their minds a little bit more,” he said. “I have been involved for more than 24 years. If you look at any match, at Croke Park, or Thurles, the majority of the crowd are women. They are mad into following it. This could be the big secret for Ruislip, they struggle to get crowds out there, and the women are great supporters and it will bring them on board.
“In fairness they have always let us play unless the weather went against us. Greenford is good to us but we need a play on a closed pitch once we get up to club quarter final and inter-county level.
“We know the dates at the beginning of the year and that those dates could be allocated. I would not want to go down the road of hounding them, Ruislip are usually quite good. There is always going to be dinosaurs in every board, we have them in the ladies board too, people that do not agree with anything. Overall it is the one pitch that everyone wants to play on.”
He is also calling on the county board to provide more funding to the Ladies team.
He said: “It is a big call. And the men have the bigger say. The women are hanging on to shirt tails, the ladies game is very prosperous now. Of course with the different types of funding that may be in line they need to get together. It is matter of we do need to sit down. We are working very hard with men’s board and the ladies board to sit down and come up with something where they can help us. On a financial basis it is very, very, hard.”
The two biggest differences concern travelling expenses for entire teams and individual expenses to reimburse players who have to travel great distances to attend training sessions.
In the latter instance members of the women’s squad must cover their own travelling expenses to and from training sessions at Greenford. At this time of the year, as the team prepares for its All Ireland championship, team members could be at the Tir Chonaill Gaels pitch at Greenford up to three times a week. Members of the male team can claim mileage expenses for the same effort.
The former situation is far more complicated but equally unfair.
Since most games take place in Ireland airline and hotel expenses can run into thousands for each match. During last year’s epic All Ireland final campaign there were several fundraisers held to get the men’s team over and back to Ireland to play the likes of Mayo, Leitrim (twice) and Cavan. However, not once did the players have to put their hand in their own pockets.
This year each of the 30 odd members of the ladies panel have been asked to raise £150 each to cover their own travel expenses over and back. This will only cover the first two games and should the London side get through the provincial series and make it to an All Ireland qualifier the funds are simply not there to allow them to continue and team members will have to delve into their own pockets again if they wish to continue.
The reason for this is that the ladies county board can only afford to pay for 21 players and two members of the management team to travel. And this is after every club in London has already paid £500 to the board. O’Donoghe believes his squad has a real chance of making it to the All Ireland final. Last year he fell short of this ambition, chiefly due to player shortages and now with the extra funding, generated by the team, he will be able to travel with a full squad.
O’Donoghue said: “Last year it was £1000 but the clubs found it very hard. This year at the convention this was changed to £500 but because of that we can only finance 21 players to travel with the county and two [management] people with them which is nigh on impossible as I found last year. You need 30 people on a panel, what happens if some few of them get injured? We have four people injured at the moment. Now we are in trouble. We ended last year, against Cavan, where some girls had booked holidays prior, and we had no subs. You can’t be like that at county level. If you are going to win something you have to go at it the same as everybody else with a full panel of 30 players.
“We came up with an idea this year to try and help. The board could not cover it. We have asked the girls to commit to a county jersey and that if they give you three or four months of hard work then it is very hard to say to any girl that you are not travelling.”
Despite all his concerns behind the scenes O’Donoghue firmly believes that his charges can cause a major upset in this year’s All Ireland series and bring the intermediate crown to London for the first time.
London face current Junior champions Offaly in Tullamore on Saturday in the Leinster semi-final.
He added: “Compared to last year when we were only trying to building a team, we are far more potent now. If we win on Saturday we play in the Leinster final on July 26, if we do not win we play in a back-door qualifier on the 26.”