‘Put themselves in the shoes of the girls, the torture they’re going through is unbelievable’

THE MANAGER OF the reigning All-Ireland senior camogie club champions is pleading with the Camogie Association to complete the 2020 championship series, and insists that the problem is “very easy to resolve.”

Michael ‘Hopper’ McGrath [file photo].

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Michael ‘Hopper’ McGrath, who guided Sarsfields of Galway to All-Ireland glory last season, says that the ongoing fixture row is having a major impact on his players and that the “torture they’re going through is unbelievable.” 

Last week, the Camogie Association overturned its controversial fixture plan as 53% of clubs voted in favour of a split-season format for 2021.

This came on the back of a period of upheaval which included inter-county players threatening strike action over the fixture schedule. This resulted in clubs being polled about what direction to take with the format.

The outcome of the poll means that the inter-county championships will follow after the conclusion of the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues, which started last weekend. However, this also means that the 2020 All-Ireland club camogie championship will not be completed.

Players from the affected clubs have voiced their dissatisfaction with this result, while the six senior sides in the competition — Loughiel, Drom and Inch, Thomastown, Inagh Kilnamona, Sarsfields and Oulart-The Ballagh — have written to the Camogie Association this week with a solution to complete the competitions. 

“We all sent in letters to look at this,” McGrath tells The42 as he provides an update on the current status of their negotiations with the association. 

“We’ve met over zoom twice last week but we’re not getting any satisfactory response. I think the Ard Chomhairle are meeting tomorrow night and it’s going to be on the agenda.

“We would just plead with them. All I can say is to see the bigger picture. Put themselves in the shoes of the girls, the torture they’re going through is unbelievable. The Camogie Association said it’s part of the community, it’s inclusive, all about well-being and mental health.

“But what they have done is stand for none of those four things in any shape or form. Even us as managers, and the girls, what they’re going through is torture.

“This was decided since last May, 12 months that it was going ahead, and ok it was called off in December or maybe February and fair enough. But to be told no later than 1 May that it was definitely going ahead. You can imagine how unjust it is.”

The letter which was sent to the Camogie Association includes a list of dates that could accommodate the completion of the 2020 All-Ireland series.

The dates of 7, 13, 20 and 27 June were put forward to run in tandem with the league. McGrath assures that this fixture plan is “watertight” and includes provisions for scenarios where a club is impacted by Covid-19.

“We have put in provisions that if Covid intervenes and a team can’t play, they’re out of the competition,” McGrath explains. “Every game is finished on the day, if it goes to extra-time, goes to penalties.

“The thing about it is, for the last 30 years, the league and club championship ran parallel because county managers want to try out other players in the league which was a given.

“This is the same thing again. The National League is running now at the minute. You have to think as well that with these [club] games I’m talking about, after the first game, half of them will be gone because it’s knockout competition.

@gbfmsports @ConnachtCamogie @Drom_Camogie @inagh_kilnamona @OulartC @ThomastownC @LoughgielCamogi @SportsDaz @womenshurling @OfficialCamogie @WomensGPA @HerSportDotIE @TuamHerald @wsdotie @GalwayCamogie96 pic.twitter.com/yG2Nqbgn1M

— Sarsfields Camogie Club, Galway 🇳🇬 (@SarsfieldsCC) May 13, 2021

“Then they’ll be back with their counties and a lot of counties before this starts will probably be out of the league anyway because it’ll be down to the knockout stages.

“And talking to county managers, they have no problem with it. They never had a problem.”

The poll which was put to clubs by the Camogie Association included two options to consider for the 2021 schedule. Option 1 facilitated the completion of the 2020 club series, while option 2 followed the split-season format adopted by the LGFA and the GAA for 2021 but did not include the 2020 All-Ireland club series.

This was the fixture schedule which was originally proposed by the Camogie Association but triggered a controversial reaction over how it would impact dual players at club level.

Option 2 narrowly won out in the voting process.

McGrath says he can understand where those who opposed to Option 1 but added that it’s still possible to include the 2020 All-Ireland championships under option 2.

“There should have been another clause there,” he says about the poll. “It wasn’t fair that 95% of the people that was voting on this, it didn’t concern them. It was really a vote of either county or club but in the county one, this was thrown in the mix and it shouldn’t have been.

“If county managers had been told at the time that we’ll go county first but that the 2020 club would be completed, they wouldn’t have gone any further. But they created a fuss.

“It was a close poll, about 200 clubs didn’t vote on it. The reason being was it went out on a Friday evening and back on the Tuesday. A lot of the clubs wouldn’t have been back active yet or back registered yet.

“They’re should have been a third option [in the poll].

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“This was overturned by social media driving it for the inter-county player. It was a flawed poll.”

McGrath celebrates Sarsfields’ All-Ireland final victory over Slaughtneil last year.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

McGrath spoke passionately about this issue on Galway Bay FM last week, and mentioned at the time that the clubs have a “nuclear option” which they will consider if the problem is not resolved.

As mentioned above, McGrath says there will be a meeting of the Ard Chomhairle tomorrow night where this will be discussed again. While he insists that he does not want to expand on what their nuclear option will be, he says that they will not stop lobbying for justice if the meeting does not produce a favourable outcome. 

He also admits that this ongoing row has potentially created a divide between the club and county player but stresses that “that’s the last thing anyone wants.”

“It’s very easy resolve it at the present. Luckily enough, we still have our time because the first match can’t be played until 7 June so this can be resolved very satisfactorily.

“I would plead again with them to just reflect. We all rush into decisions at times that we regret. I would ask them to put themselves in these girls’ shoes from these 35 clubs. You’re talking about the guts of 1,000 girls. I would just ask them please to reflect and think of what they’re going through.

“We, as managers, have to stand up for them because there’s no-one else to stand up for them.

“How can we face these girls again if we don’t stand up for them? If things go against us on Wednesday night, it’s not finished at that. We’re going to take this as we possibly can because we have to.”

The42 contacted the Camogie Association for a comment but did not receive a response at time of publication.

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