As Conor Lane blew the final whistle last Saturday evening, the last of the Five Lamps on Dublin’s North Strand was illuminated in a shade of blue. The prevailing headline across the media was that history had been made. For the first time ever, a team had won five
consecutive All-Ireland Championships. This, however, isn’t technically correct. A quick perusal of the history books shows that Kerry won nine, yes nine, titles in a row from 1982 to 1990, and over a period of twelve years, a dominant Cork team won eleven titles (2005–2009 , 2011–2016) with a pesky Dublin team thwarting their clean sweep in 2010. The difference with those teams? They were women.
The knee-jerk response to this is to point out that the men and women’s games are governed by different organisations, and so, Dublin’s achievement still stands as the first in the history of the GAA. To me, however, this is semantics. At county board level, the ladies’ teams are as much a part of the GAA as the men. They may not receive the same amount of coverage, support or funding as their male counterparts, but they fall under the dominion of the thirty- two county boards established by the Gaelic Athletic Association, and while there may also be subtle differences in the rule book, both competitions are derivative of the Gaelic games
that have excited and entertained the people of this island for centuries.
The disregard for female sporting achievements is not exclusive to Ireland unfortunately. Last season, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City became the first men’s team to win the domestic treble. Before what would come to be the history-writing match, Guardiola was asked by a reporter about the prospect of “winning the first-ever domestic treble in this country”;. Guardiola quickly interrupted the reporter to clarify that it would be the first time a men’s team had won the treble, as the women had completed it previously, some time before in fact, with Arsenal Women completing the formidable feat in 1993. Since then, Arsenal Women have repeated their success on a further three occasions, including the 2006–07 season where they added the Champions League to accomplish an unprecedented quadruple. Such an achievement has never been matched in the English game, and yet the women receive little to
no recognition for what is a remarkable sporting performance.
Even off the pitch the dismissal of female athletes continues. Following her retirement in 2017, Alex Scott made a transition into punditry that many former players make. Scott spent over ten years at Arsenal Women during three different spells, collecting twenty-one honours in the process and she played a vital role in the aforementioned quadruple-winning season of 2006–07. She also made over 140 appearances for the national team, taking part in three Women’s World Cups. With such a wealth of knowledge on the game, Scott joined the BBC as a pundit for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Women’s World Cup. She also signed with Sky Sports to cover the Premier League on their Super Sunday show. Following her TV appearances, Scott was subject to vitriolic sexist abuse online, as the insecurity of some exploded at the sight of a former professional athlete offering insight and analysis of the game, seemingly suggesting that they somehow were more knowledgeable than a professional with a drawer full of medals.
So, why is the female game met with such disdain from certain people? The most common argument is that the quality simply doesn’t stack up to men’s game. I find there are two issues with this line of thinking. Firstly, it pits both the men and women’s game against one another where biology is always going to play a factor. Sticking with soccer as an example, facing Megan Rapinoe against Sergio Aguero will result in an outcome that may be influenced by the biological differences between the two. The thing is, Aguero will never face Rapinoe and likewise, no men’s team will play a women’s team which leaves us with a redundant point about a gap in quality that has no real relevance on either game.
Additionally, dismissing the women’s game as inferior, and thus, not worth your time, is ignorant of why people watch sport in the first place. Why do people continue to support teams like Sunderland or Portsmouth? Teams who have enjoyed success in the past but have since fallen away and currently play in the 3rd tier of English soccer. Sure, part of it is geographic, but most of it is loyalty. They don’t play the flashy, high-quality game of the Premier League and yet their supporters travel the length and breadth of the country to watch their team play, in good times and in bad. This proves there’s more to people’s support than the quality of the game, much more in fact. It’s about the passion shown on the pitch and the values that embody a club or team. Nothing is any different in the women’s game.
Thankfully, times are slowly changing, and people are beginning to broaden their horizons. Women’s sport is growing at a rapid rate, thanks in part to the increased media coverage it’s receiving. Throughout the competition, more than a billion people from across the globe tuned into the 2019 Women’s World Cup according to FIFA. And in the UK, 11.7 million people watched Alex Morgan sip tea as the USA eased passed the UK in the semi-final. This recent upturn in interest has boosted the Women’s Super League to new heights. The season opener drew a huge attendance as over thirty-one thousand people watched an enthralling Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium. Caroline Weir’s thumping shot from distance provided the moment of magic required to secure all three points, something Kevin De Bruyne would have been proud of.
Back at home, the recent All-Ireland Ladies Football Final saw lashing rain and a record crowd of 56,114 as Dublin completed the double, breezing past Galway in what was their third title in a row. Attendance at the final has risen consistently over the past six years. From a measly 27,374 in 2014 to the record-breaking attendance last Sunday, the prevalence of the female game is growing exceptionally. While it hasn’t yet reached the heights of the men’s final, it is certainly on the right track and with performances from Dublin like the one against Galway, the Five Lamps might be blue for some time!
As women’s sport continues to grow and gain the recognition it deserves, many people’s preconceptions will be broken and new fans will be made, further propelling it to new heights. Nobody is requesting that every soccer fan tune into the Women’s Super League
every week, but these athletes who play for the love of the game, deserve some respect and recognition for their achievements. That is all they ask, and frankly, it’s the least they deserve. At the end of the day, sport is sport whoever is playing it and if you ask me, the more of it that’s showcased, the better!