Camogie takes centre stage on the Irish sporting calendar on Sunday when Croke Park hosts what is expected to be a crowd of 25,000 to watch three finals to determine the Champions of 2019.
The Camogie Association’s new Ard Stiúrthóir or CEO Sinéad McNulty has painted an ambitious picture of that attendance, a 20 per cent increase on last year, and today we have a first interview with her as she prepares for her first Finals Day in the Liberty Insurance All Ireland Camogie Championship.
McNulty joined the Association back in June as this year’s Championship was getting underway and has hit the gound running. She previously worked in the world of local authorities with dun Laoghaire rathdown and recently as Head of Sport at TU Dublin, the old DIT. While there she has been central to the development of new sporting facilities as the Grangegorman Campus.
She served as Chairperson of the Scheme Implementation Group of the Government Grant Scheme supporting intercounty Camogie and Ladies Gaelic Football players, Chairperson of Student Sport Ireland’s Finance and Governance Committee, and a member of the GAA’s Towards 2034 Committee.
We sit together on the board of the Dublin City Council Sport and Wellbeing Partnership and warmly applauded her appointment to the Camogie hotseat when it was announced.
How is it going then after the first few months at the helm…
SfB: How are you feeling about the target of 25,000 for Sunday?
SMcN: Very good. All we need is a little bit of sunshine over the weekend but the indications are that our call for fans of the sport to #GoTogether has resonated.
It’s great for the sport that we are assured of three new winners on each of the Cups on Sunday. Galway’s win over Cork was some game and with a strong TV audience on RTÉ that day it has excited people about what we can look forward to on Sunday.
SfB: Ladies Football is ahead in terms of the numbers going to the final but do you look on that positively as providing rrom for growth in Camogie?
SMcN: Our objective is to work closely with others sports of shared values but to focus primarily on building oour profile and support.
The focus is on expanding in a sustainable fashion and holding on to the gains we make.
The increase in attendance from this year’s quarter finals and semi finals has been strong at 27 per cent. It’s going in the right direction and once we continue to engage with our players, our volunteers and our clubs to support the best exponents of the sport then we will sustain that at every level.
SfB: Without betraying any sense of partiality, were you happy to see Galway come through in this year’s Senior Final?
SMcN: We have great counties and great teams competing on Sunday. It’s good for the sport and different teams coming through to this highest levels is exciting.
It keeps everyone on their toes in terms of how they will prepare year after year, how they keep on looking to improve and how the sport is a winner as a result.
Having Westmeath involved in the Intermediate final three years after they won the Premier Junior Final shows how much progress can be made. The support they brought that day was electric and it really is a day for every county to enjoy.
SfB: You’ve been involved in sport as a player, a fan, an administrator. How does it feel now to be the boss on such a big day?
SMcN: I’m hugely excited. A little bit nervous as I’d normally one for jumping up and down at the big games and I guess I’ll have to contain that, a little.
It’s nerve-wracking as well as the pressure is on us to deliver on the big day. To make sure that our players arre happy, that they get what they deserve and need on their big day. That the fans are happy that the spectacle is good.
That our sponsors Liberty insurance, who have been brilliant to work with, are happy with their experience, and that that TV audience at home get to see a really good image of what camogie is all about.
also our referees and officials, without whom there would be no games.
There are so many people that you want to walk away happy on Sunday evening. That’s a big responsibility but it’s very exciting.
SfB: RTÉ have been especially strong supporters. How important is that to have covered so many games this season?
SMcN: RTÉ are very committed to sport in general and to Women’s sport in particular as the national broadcaster.
Camogie is a national sport, we have UNESCO Heritage status so it is important that we are on the national broadcaster.
We have had a very good relationship over many years with RTÉ and the fact of their commitment this weekend to showing all three finals straight through on RTÉ is hugely important.
Our numbers have been strong on TV this year with the semi final up and we need to keep that going so that Declan McBennett and Cliona O’Leary in RTÉ can have the confidence to continue to have faith in us.
Liberty insurance have also been very good this year in helping us to expand, as have Littlewoods in the National League by broadcasting games through Live streaming. One game in every round of the Championship has been shown live thanks to Liberty and the numbers they are reaching have been very strong.
Getting viewers on different channels is great and is changing the way that people are engaging with the sport.
SfB: The Camogie attendance is often young and very noisy, it’s a great occasion. How much of Croke Park will be open on Sunday?
SMcN: The numbers are strong so we will be spreading around into the Davin Stand this year as well as the Hogan.
We will also have 1,200 children in the parade at half time of the Senior Final. That’s more than we’ve ever had before and it is very exciting for them.
Our U14 and U16 as well as Senior 7’s competition for clubs is going on through Saturday at eight different clubs around dublin so it will be a whole weekend of activity.
SfB: In the three months you’ve been in the job what are the things you have seen within the sport that are most exciting, and what are some of the bigger challenges you have identified?
SMcN: I think one of the most exciting things has been the energy of the team we have working in the Association.
It’s very dynamic and they are a strong team with a focus on what we can do a little bit better across all the areas we are involved in.
A key factor which everyone is very strong on, and which runs through our huge volunteer base, is making sure that the player experience is central to everything that we do
Whether that’s a young girl picking up a hurl for the first time or whether it’s appearing in an All Ireland Final, that they enjoy the experience.
Our volunteers are an integral part of the Association. They put in work that you can never imagine iunless you have been part of a club.
Our job is to support them and there are a number of tangible ways in which we will be doing that over the next year.
SfB: How is the relationship between the different associations that make up the wider Gaelic Games family
SMcN: Our relationship with our colleagues in the GAA and ladies Gaelic Football is very important. There is a great sense of collaboration and working together.
At club level we want to ensure that the ‘One Club’ model means people who join a club get a similar experience whether they are playing Camogie, Ladies Football, Hurling or Football.
We are three Associations and it takes time to draw closer but we are doing that. Helen O’Rourke at the LGFA and I sit on the Coiste Bainistí (Management Committee) of the GAA and we are always looking at ways to remove hurldes that might exist between us.
The memoranda of understanding signed between us will see further advances in this area, again with the experience of those who play the game central to what we do.
We will be part of the 25,000 crowd at Croke Park on Sunday. It’s a special day and if you have an opportunity to take time to experience it you will not be disappointed.
Read More: Liberty Insurance and Camogie in 2019
Read More: Littlewoods and Camogie
Read More: Ready for Sunday
Image Credits: Tommy Dickson, Inpho.ie