If she can’t see it, she can’t be it.
In the first 2019 instalment of Derry City LFC’s ‘Women in Sport’ feature we talk to one of the most influential women in Irish Sport, Mary O’Connor.
The Chief Executive of the Federation of Irish Sport discusses her influences and success at all levels in Camogie and Women’s Football and the current attitudes to Women’s sport.
Hailing from the village of Killeagh in East Cork, a Gaelic games mad parish, Mary played Camogie and Football. She recalls:
“When I was growing up, hurling, Camogie and Football was all the sports we had access to and at every opportunity we practised our skills -whether it was in the garden or down the GAA pitch. I come from a family of 9 (6 brothers and 2 sisters) so there was always someone to play with.”
O’Connor gets great enjoyment out of sport, citing the feeling of being fit, having fun and meeting friends as the first of many influences.
As she got older Mary realised that she had a great talent for sport and found, like many other sportspeople – a great confidence in herself and a sense of identity.
Mary discusses the many people that played vital roles in aiding her to become the Sportswoman that she is.
“My mother was a fantastic supporter to me and there was not a day that went by where she wasn’t bringing me or my siblings to matches or training.”
“I had fantastic coaches as a child, Tommy Seward and the local teacher Maurice O’Mahony had a huge influence over me.”
“Back then I was a girl playing on boys’ teams. It wasn’t the norm, but they made it easier and some of the best days I had as a player was with those teams. When I was growing up nearly all my sport heroes were men, simply because they were the most prominent on TV and in the papers.”
It really did depend on the time of the year. My one female influencer was Chris Everett every time Wimbledon was on. When the hurling was on I was Ger Cunningham or Teddy McCarthy, when the rugby was on I was Tony Ward, when the soccer was on I was Packie Bonner, when the show jumping was on in the RDS I was Eddie Macken but I never had a horse!”
In 2005, the Irish Sports Council introduced a Women in Sport programme aiming to increase the participation of girls and women in sport. In the same year, Mary O’Connor was a dual camogie and football star for Cork, working as a Sports Promotion Officer in Limerick IT and coaching in schools around Cork. Later, as a result of backing from this very programme Mary was hired by the Camogie Association to assist in the delivery of a new development strategy.
Women’s sport has developed hugely in the last 15 to 20 years and coverage needs to improve to ensure the modern-day athletes and teams are recognised as excellent at the sport they play and as role models and inspirations to the next generation of girls.
“When I was playing, the things I enjoyed the most were the challenges each game brought and the challenge to master a skill.”
“Winning was important as an elite athlete and the majority of players I played with really trained hard and maximised their talent. I met some brilliant people, had fantastic experiences and made great friends.”
“Sport has made me who I am and despite the injuries, the hard decisions when it came to putting sport first, I have no regrets, I gave it my all and it gave me a lifetime of memories.”
Since retiring Mary has ran two marathons and enjoys cycling, but team sport is something that she finds very hard to replicate. Still an avid sports fan Mary enjoys going to games of all sports and loves when Irish teams on the international stage excel.
“As a player in a team sport the ultimate is to be of value to the team and for your team to win, I have won All-Irelands at club and county in both Camogie and Football and they are all great to look back on, but for me the journey to winning them is my highlight, only each player, each team knows what they have done to be successful and it’s the dedication, hard work and enjoyment along the way that gives me the most satisfaction.”
In December 2017, O’Connor was appointed as the new Chief Executive of the Federation of Irish Sport, when we asked her if women in sport get enough coverage in the media Mary replied “Absolutely not, the wheel is turning but it’s a slow process.”
“We need to stimulate behavioural change in media and society at large. I think more and more people are being exposed to the different sports girls play and how good technically they are and also how committed they are.”
“If they succeed at elite level that only adds to challenging and changing attitudes in sport. I also think there are more and more men getting involved in women’s sport and that can only aid the working in challenging attitudes towards women’s sport.”
“I think the 20×20 campaign which the Federation of Irish Sport is presenting is important as it is a unified campaign between over 70 national governing bodies of sport and Local Sport Partnerships who are committed to working towards a 20% increase in Media coverage of female athletes and their sports by 2020, a 20% increase in attendances at events/competitions by 2020 and an increase in participation by 20% by 2020.”
“The premise of the 20×20 campaign is that visibility is key, If she can’t see it, she can’t be it. We believe if we can celebrate and value our existing sport role models then that will inspire and influence girls to get involved in sport and physical activity.”
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20×20 – Women In Sport
- a 20% increase in media coverage of women in sport
- a 20% increase in female participation at all levels of sport
- a 20% increase in attendance at women’s games and events
Everyone can help accelerate progress in this country by pledging to do just one small thing to help start this giant shift for female sport. Whether you’re a teacher who can help create greater parity and opportunities for girls, a journalist who can help increase visibility of female athletes and competitions, a parent who can attend a match or a person who can simply encourage a young woman to get involved in sport, we need you to show your stripes because if she can’t see it, she can’t be it.