Arthur Corrigan, Kildare LFGA former chairman and now Leinster LGFA secretary
Ladies football made the headlines in recent times, unfortunately not for the reasons that would have been hoped for after their All-Ireland senior semi final between Cork and Galway was shifted from Limerick to Parnell Park in Dublin before finally, due to weather conditions, getting the green light to play in Croke Park.
A lot of negative comment followed, much out of it completely out of order with many making accusations and coming to conclusions that were totally wrong, totally out of order and obviously from people who did not know, or choose to ignore, the facts of the entire episode.
If anything good did come out of that entire episode, it certainly, and not for the first time, stirred the debate on the proposed full integration of the LGFA, the Camogie Association and and Croke Park, into one Association.
That was one of the topics discussed when we spoke with Arthur Corrigan, Chairman of Kildare Ladies up to a few weeks ago (among many other roles he has held over the years) and has just stepped down from that role moving on to take up the role of LGFA Leinster Secretary.
A member of a much respected and highly regarded GAA family from Kill, Arthur now lives in Naas and got involved with Ladies football in the county town a good few years ago now.
“Like most people who get involved, I had daughters, one in particular, who took up the game and in fairness at that time there were very few people involved and really we did not know how it would evolve; was it just a fad, or whatever.
“However, as in all sports girls are taking part in these days — amateur and professional — they are as committed to their particular chosen sport as any of their male counterparts.”
Arthur explains that back in 1992 there were just three clubs playing Ladies football in Kildare but that has now grown to 40 clubs today, so a phenomenal growth by any standards.
“One of the challenges” explains Arthur “is putting the supports in place now and growing the profile of the game but it is also vital we get the supports in and avoid the risk of everything simply collapsing.
“I have been a member of Naas GAA club now for a good few years. It is a club that has a very sound structure and the ladies and camogie are integrated into it very well.
“Naas is one of the largest clubs in the entire country; the big thing of course is the facilities and getting access to those facilities but to be fair there are clubs in worse situations than the likes of Naas but every club in the country, if asked, would turn around and say we need more facilities.”
That, says Arthur, if more facilities came on board does not automatically mean problem solved, as you then need people to mind those facilities and maintain them, look after them, like all sports at the moment, the ladies need, and are encouraging, more people to get involved.”
Arthur explains that after the last big lockdown, Mick Gorman, Chairman Kildare GAA Co. Board, brought together representatives from his body, football and hurling, including reps from Bord na nÓg; from the LGFA in the county and the Camogie Association in Kildare, all with a view to getting a co-ordinated approach to getting games back up and running again after the lockdown restrictions were relaxed.
“It was” he added “the first time that all the various bodies sat down together and it is something I would certainly warmly welcome, encourage and hope we will see a lot more of that approach in the future; Mick Gorman is to be congratu-
lated for taking the initiative he took and that's for sure.”
The Kill native said that as he sees it, that is the sort of attitude that is required.
“It is the only way we are going to get people involved, if we can show greater integration at county level that will then infiltrate down into club level.”
As regards getting more people involved in Ladies football Arthur makes the case that over the years a lot of lads have played football with their clubs and in particular with the county; many of those lads now have daughters and there is a great opportunity for them to continue their involvement in the games by taking roles in Ladies football” adding “they don't have to be roles at the top table or anything like that, they can get involved gradually, come in and see how things are run and how much more outside help is urgently required.
“And as lads retire from playing they will realise there is a role for them in the Ladies set-up, that is what we have to work on and make sure that everyone realises that if they are interested their is a role for them in our games; each and every club would be only delighted to get lads involved and while people are very busy these days (pre-covit) highlighting what is available for them to get involved is what we have to concentrate on.”
While acknowledging that Covid-19 has knocked each and everyone back in some way or other, on the positive side he adds it has got people back to focus on family, home life and vital recreational activity.
“If people out there knew the amount of work that had to go on in clubs just to get a game played at all, it was absolutely phenomenal; and the task on clubs to ensure players were safe; that did not happen by accident; not sure if people realised what was involved to get games played, but it was phenomenal.”
Take for instance the running of the various Ladies county finals in Hawkfield, he adds, “that was a huge challenge and it took almighty effort what with stewarding, car parking, sanitizing, etc., it was colossal but with the help and co-operation of everyone we managed it, got through it safely which was a huge achievement.”
And what of the much talked of amalgamation of Croke Park, the Ladies and the Camogie Association, remembering it was back in 2012 after Liam O'Neill was elected Uachtaráin Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, that one of his main aims of his tenure was to bring the three bodies together under one roof and one association.
So what happened?
Difficult to say but it has to happen said Arthur Corrigan, “both at national and county level and then that would filter down to club level.
“Helen O'Rourke, CEO of the Ladies Association now sits on the GAA Ard Chomhairle and that is a start; and from a provincial level I feel we should be doing something along similar lines.”
But what are the stumbling blocks, is it Croke Park or is it a fear by the LGFA and/or the Camogie Association that if they do integrate fully, it would mean a loss of autonomy; a fear that they could be swamped and more or less lose the ability to run their own games etc?
“That's a worry, no doubt” said Arthur “but you have to remember, and realise, that the LGFA are a very young organisation; they don't have 100 years of history behind them and the sort of experience that brings to the GAA; they simply don't have that experience and remember they (LGFA) are drawing on the facilities throughout the length and breadth of the entire country that the GAA has in every town and village, something no other sporting organisation has.”
The new Leinster secretary adds that “as an association we need to grow our own support groups to show we can actually support ourselves and show we are not leaning on the GAA.”
Mr Corrigan, IT Manager with the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, again emphasises the great co-operation between the LGFA and Kildare GAA, especially over the last number of months.
“We have access to Hawkfield; we have access to St Conleth's Park and have played more matches in those grounds over the past few years, and of course we have access to many club facilities, but as a county we are growing, the number of county teams are growing and we need to be working with the GAA to develop the likes of Hawkfield, and yes, it will have to be shared facilities; there is no way we will have facilities solely just for Ladies football; to be honest we don't have enough football to be playing throughout the entire year, but we are all attempting to play around the same time frame; the same window and that is when it is really busy.”
So might the proposed split season in football and hurling, club and county actually benefit Ladies football?
“That is one of the things the LGFA are looking at from an All-Ireland and county perspective; we (Ladies) are not going along the same path, fixture-wise, as the proposed new GAA calendar.”
So how can the LGFA avoid running into the same fixture jam, the same bottle necks as we have seen for instance this year with the All-Ireland semi final debacle?
“If, for instance, the LGFA were not playing at the same time, county-wise as the GAA, there could be move facilities available; opportunities there could be looked at and as a county and as a county board (LGFA) we have to look at that and most important of all” adds Arthur “be open to change.”
The former chairman of Kildare Ladies, added “It is very easy to get hung up on just doing the same thing, year in and year out and without looking at what is it that we need to actually change and improve on; these are the challenges we face.”
On the inter-county scene 2020 was certainly a hugely disappointing year for Kildare Ladies. Operating in Division 3 of the Lidl Ladies National League, they were unbeaten and had qualified for the League final and possible promotion, something they had aimed for at the start of the year. However when the virus struck it was decided to scrap all league action, with no promotion or relegation, a decision that was a major disappointment to the senior girls management and players but also to the county board.
Chairman, at that time, Arthur Corrigan, expressed his disappointment at the decision saying “I did not agree with that decision and as we were coming back after the lockdown to play championship, I was fully aware that counties would be seeking friendly games and finishing the league off I felt would be ideal. However Central Council decided otherwise and that was a blow to everyone, not just in Kildare but to the four counties that had already qualified for various league finals at that stage.
“Having said that, I do realise everything was done for health and safety reasons and no one knew at that point how the pandemic would pan out.”
Kildare did play in the championship and in their final group game required just a draw against Laois to book a place in the Leinster semi final. However on the day Laois proved too strong. Meath went on to win the championship defeating Westmeath in the final. The win sees Meath promoted to the senior ranks for 2021, thus ensuring the return of the Leinster Ladies SFC in 2021.
And while there will still be just two teams in that championship, the fact there will be a senior champion-
ship is something Arthur Corrigan says is a positive. We do need the likes of ourselves (Kildare), Laois, Westmeath and Offaly to step up to the senior grade in the next few years.
However the long time official casts a warning note saying “we have to be careful, in some ways Ladies football is losing some of its innocence; there are a few cynical things coming into it; a little bit too much like the men’s game. I’d be afraid the game would go down the same road as the men, that is not the way we want to go, particularly at provincial level, we need strong counties and we need multiple strong counties to progress even better again.”
So how does Arthur see the Ladies game in say ten years time?
“I would like to see it on a lot more equal footing; more integrated within the GAA family, the reliance on the same resources and everything like that, and that it is not seen as a separate association.”
And what about Arthur Corrigan in ten years time?
A big laugh before saying “no matter what I won't (hopefully) be too far away. I was reared in the GAA, playing it, coaching it and I'd always like to think I would be involved and their would be a role somewhere in it for me. I don't mind what that might be but I would certainly remain very interested in it and hopefully progressing it even further.”