By Daragh Nolan
Despite progress made for elite sportswomen in Ireland to be treated equally to there male counterparts, there is still a long way to go.
Méabh de Búrca, a player from Galway with 40 senior Ireland caps, still struggles with this treatment herself.
“We are slowly getting to what we always wanted, which is to be taken seriously. Back in the day, just the fact we were playing sport, you might have got condescended about playing, and saying that just playing was an achievement” she says.
An analysis of media in Ireland on one weekend in late October 2020 highlighted the scale of the need for improvement in coverage. In a weekend of sport that featured the Women’s Six Nations, European women’s soccer qualifier and the All-Ireland camogie championship alongside the male sports, there was not one image of Women’s sport featured in the Irish Times.
“I remember Roy Keane came into our dressing room after we lost to Russia. We had all just had a poor game. He was very honest in his assessment saying that was needed to get the basics right and that they were not good enough.”
“It was great, he wasn’t just cheering us on, saying that it was great we were there representing Irish women. He treated us the same way he would have treated the men’s team, he commented on our performance as sports people, gender didn’t come into it,” says Méabh.
The response to this criticism further highlights what sportswomen in Ireland want to happen moving forward. They just want to play. They don’t want pandering. Equality in sport comes with fair and honest criticism. Despite the disappointing loss, the Irish team that night felt reassured they were being taken seriously.
“He was my idol growing up and although I would have preferred if he had seen a better game, it was inspiring to hear honest feedback. He gained a lot of respect from all of us in the dressing room that night,” she says.
The lack of coverage of women’s sport in Ireland has been a problem for many years. The 20×20 campaign was launched early last year, with the goal of increasing media coverage of women’s sport by 20%. In addition to this, the goal was to increase both female participation in sport and attendance at women’s game by the same margin.
“The campaign definitely helped in the promotion of women’s coverage. Lockdown even helped elite women’s sport in Ireland because they were one of the few sports that could be played at the time. Which, helped get more publicity than they would have had otherwise. The coverage is improving, but there’s still a way to go,” says Méabh.
“All my football heroes growing up were male because I didn’t know a single woman who was on the Irish team until I was on it myself,” says Méabh.
That emergence into the Irish senior team came at 18 years old for Méabh. The opportunity arose as a late replacement for an Irish Olympic gold medal winner.
“The first time I was called up to the squad it was to replace Katie Taylor because she had a fight coming up. We were headed to Germany and I didn’t play on my first trip, but it was great to get in and around the squad before I made my full debut.”
“I made my debut at home to Italy, me and another girl flew home early from the U19’s trip we were on and I got my first senior minutes at 18 and it was just such a thrilling experience at such a young age,” says Méabh.
One of the most interesting stories from Méabh’s career was her progression through the ranks in Galway alongside childhood friend Emer Flatley. The defensive pair would both also make their way through the Irish underage setup beside one another.
“It would have been mainly lads I was playing with growing up, in my estate there was only me and my neighbour Emer playing with all the lads.”
“The boys would be wary of you at the start, but at soon as they see you can play a bit it didn’t matter what gender you were, and as it turned out we both ended up playing for the Irish team later in life,” she says.
To keep an eye on Méabh’s journey, you can follow her on twitter here
For more Galway related stories, visit galwaypulse.com