Who Run the World? GAA Girls!

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By Annie Driver, 3rd year English student & Gaelic Football Co-President

As we draw towards the end of BUCS This Girl Can week, I have been reflecting on what sport means to me as a young woman. Growing up in Birmingham, I have been involved in GAA Gaelic Athletic Association [GAA] sports, playing throughout my childhood and adolescence. The development of Ladies Gaelic Football in the past few years has been phenomenal, with more women playing, watching, and discussing the games- in Ireland, the UK and further afield. Whilst it cannot currently qualify as a BUCS sport as the men’s side does, more Universities are becoming involved with the sport and therefore, Gaelic football cannot go unmentioned this week. As Co-President of the University of Liverpool gaelic football club I want to be part of the process of increasing young women’s participation in sports, as I have seen for myself the numerous benefits involvement in team sports can have for young women.

The Gaelic Athletic Association was formed in 1884, however, not surprisingly for this period, it was exclusive to men. Women were fed up of being on the side-lines watching their husbands, fathers, and sons. They too wanted to experience the euphoria of scoring a goal in a Championship final in the last minute! Unfortunately it was not until 90 years later in 1974 that the Ladies Gaelic Football Association was founded.  Little did the founders know, that today, in 2017, it is the most played sport in Ireland. 

In the past decade, the sport has developed rapidly at home and away, and it is now being played across the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia.  The sport is demanding the respect it deserves, with county players raising the profile of ladies’ football. This year, the ladies all Ireland Football Final had the highest attendance in history, with more than 40,000 spectators watching the game-10,000 more than 2015! Furthermore, the partnership the Ladies gaelic football association [LGFA] has had with LIDL has had a huge impact on the games, with more money being invested into sports and clubs, as well as their eye-catching media campaigns such as #SeriousSport, showing the country the determination and passion of players across the country. 

LIDL also carried out research in Ireland to find out more about the participation of teenage girls’ participation in sport. The findings were shocking with 2/3 girls dropping out of sport before the age of 13. Using this research, LIDL have carried out a campaign promoting the benefits of participating in sport, particularly focusing on how it can boost self esteem and body confidence in adolescents.  Surprisingly Mayo county player Cora Staunton, who has received 9 All Stars during her career, took some time out of school when she was having some personal difficulties, however, she emphasises it is never too late to go back to playing sport.  Schemes such as Gaelic For Mums provide the opportunity for women to rediscover their love of football.  The advice she gives is ‘Find something you enjoy!’  I think this is spot on; for me this sport is Gaelic Football, for others it might be Zumba or rock climbing.  There is something out there for everyone-you just need to find it!

With the various pressures which come with University life, it can be difficult for people to find a space to take their mind off the hustle and bustle of the day. When girls arrive at University, they may not have been playing sport for years, but there are opportunities to engage in sport again-which is why BUCS Girl Can Week is such an important event in the university sporting calendar! 

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Danielle Farrell, Sport Development Officer for Performance at the University of Liverpool and Lancashire Ladies County Secretary had this to say. “Having played the game since I was 6 years old it’s great to see the sport picking up speed in the UK. At the university I have witnessed the club grow in both numbers and standard over the past few years and come across more and more girls from different backgrounds participating. The sport is also being introduced into schools across the UK and the interest at underage level is high.”

In the UK, Gaelic Football is most prominent in cities with large Irish descendants such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh. LGFA PRO Cathal Harkin provides an insight into the establishment of ladies football in the UK: “Britain is classed as the fifth province of Ireland, when related to GAA matters. Ladies football is broken into two different levels of competition – club and county level. We play-off our own championship here, before taking on the pride of Ireland to achieve All-Ireland success, at both levels. There are five competing counties in Britain: Hertfordshire/Gloucestershire, London, Lancashire, Scotland, Warwickshire. At club level, there are various numbers of clubs within each county, they playoff to see who the champions are within the respective county, they then play their counterparts from other counties to find out who the overall best club team in Britain is”.   Cathal also recognises the cultural aspects of the sport which makes it so special: ‘The GAA is not only a sporting organisation, but also has a strong cultural ethos.”  However, this does not make it exclusive and he emphasises it is open to all those who wish to participate: “It is great to hear people of all accents playing the sport across Britain”.  Perhaps in the next few years if it continues to grow, Ladies Gaelic Football will become a BUCS sport and gain equal exposure alongside our male counterparts. In the meantime the leagues run by the British University gaelic association do a great job allowing girls studying across the UK to get involved with a team, whether they’ve played before or never picked up a football in their life, providing a space where they can make friends and memories along the way!

If you’re interested in trying out gaelic football at the University of Liverpool or any other university please find details here and we can find you your nearest university team for you.