The three All-Ireland camogie finals were held in Croke Park on Sunday and proved to be a thorough afternoon’s entertainment.
There was admittedly Munster hockey interest, with SFH coach Katie Campbell (Catholic Institute, pictured below) lining out for Limerick in the intermediate decider while Orla Cotter (Fermoy, pictured below) scored 0-6 for Cork against a Kilkenny side featuring former UCC and Munster player Aine Connery in the senior decider.
I was at home nursing a dose of manflu, so kept one eye on Manchester United’s redemption against QPR and the other on the senior All-Ireland final. The latter was far more engrossing – another fine exhibition of women’s sport in a year that has thankfully seen it get more attention than usual via the exploits of the Irish women’s rugby team.
Unfortunately, there were only 15,000 people there to see it. That’s a lot of empty seats in an 82,000-seater stadium that was full for Kilkenny’s epic drawn All-Ireland senior hurling championship final against Tipperary, and will be chockers again for the replay and the men’s football final between Donegal and Kerry.
There’s a chicken-and-egg argument that underpins all this of course, and it isn’t my intention to re-hash it here; Derval O’Rourke’s Irish Examiner column did a good job of summarising the issues surrounding coverage and promotion of women’s sport. But Sport For Business ran a fine piece about why the camogie finals both deserved and should have had a bigger audience and it got me thinking.
“The opportunity to see sport at the highest level is what inspires young people to pick up a ball and kick, puck or throw in their back gardens and parks throughout the rest of the year,” they wrote. “It’s a chance to open eyes to what can be achieved by continuing to go to training on cold nights in November.”
They added that members of Dublin’s 50 camogie clubs “could and should have been at Croke Park yesterday to see what their game can deliver for them” before concluding that “if you don’t see the magic, you can’t be inspired by the magic”.
Anyone who attended the 2012 Olympic qualifiers in Dublin (pictured below) will understand this. The point is also instructional for Munster hockey, where attendances at senior club games have dwindled significantly over the past 10 years.
Every year we have some superb hockey being played on our doorsteps in the Irish Senior Cup and Irish Hockey League, but only at the senior schools cup finals, or when an U16 or U18 interpros is held in Cork, do we get reasonable supporter numbers of elite hockey – mainly due to schoolchildren coming to support their friends.
There were about three times as many people at the 2013 women’s Division 5 Cup final between UCC and Cork Wanderers than attended either of the Munster Senior Cup finals that year, as both clubs galvanised friends and family to come watch.
While it is true that the majority of players learn by doing rather than watching, it never hurts to go and see what is possible in our sport and be inspired by watching Munster’s best do their stuff, especially when the top sides from around the country come to town.
As a coach I routinely tell schools players to go and watch the highest senior adult team in their club and “player cam” whoever is playing in their position, as opposed to just watching passively. I ask them to look at their subject’s positioning, the decisions they make, how they communicate on the pitch, and come back and tell me what they’ve noticed or learned.
To date, not one player has taken me up on this.
You can’t force anyone to go and watch a match, but hockey is missing a trick here. Aspiring rugby players can go watch Munster in Thomond Park, soccer fans have a handful of Airtricity League teams in the province’s big cities. Both sports have endless amounts of top-class exhibitions of their games on television.
Having the Hockey World Cup on Sky Sports certainly helped matters this summer, but for those of us who play this beautiful game, more effort is required. The Division 1 leagues get underway this weekend; get out and support your first team this season, you might just learn something.