Ladies footballers set the right example for Galway's youth

Men and women, boys and girls - Galway Ladies needs your support

Ladies Gaelic Football is a sport on the rise. Not only is the senior team in the All Ireland final for the first time in 14 years, but on the ground, in villages and towns in County Galway, young girls are taking to the sport in numbers.

The sport has experienced an unprecedented 400 per cent increase in numbers in the girls playing Gaelic football in recent years, and now nearly 6,000 adults and juveniles are involved throughout the county.

LGFA county board chairperson Betty Hernon says it is a far cry from the time when her daughter Katie and current player Sinead Burke could only play with a local boys' team.

"In the last three to five years in particular, we have seen a huge increase in the number of girls playing football," she says. "Clubs are now more willing to have a girls' section of the club. In recent times many men have said they enjoy watching ladies' football - it seems to be more true to football skills than the men's game.

"In some areas there are huge numbers of younger players, from u8 u10, u12 through to U14, where clubs are looking at two squads, and that now presents a new challenge for the county board, to try to facilitate matches for clubs that have two teams, as much as the club that is struggling to field 15."

As deputy principal of Colaiste Einde, Betty Hernon is well placed to see the effect on young girls, and particularly teens, in playing sport.

"I see the anxiety in students, not just girls, but boys also. If you observe girls involved in sport, they are more grounded. They seem to be more resilient, better able to cope with what life throws at them - perhaps more in recent times because of the way we as parents have protected them from disappointment, from hurt."

Even in sport, she says, youngsters can be overprotected if they don't win or are not selected.

"Mum and dad can't protect them from everything, and we need to address that and bring back the balance from a young age, because such is life."

However, she says being involved in the sport has so many benefits for children, particularly on mental health.

"To be part of a team, the bonding, the friendships that take place, are all positives, and then there are the benefits from playing - learning to lose, learning how to acknowledge disappointment and to overcome disappointment, to share it within their team, and build their resilience.

"I think girls need that because life is very different for girls growing up than it was in my day, and with the added pressures of social media. I really feel when girls are part of a team, they have a greater sense of belonging that possibly girls not involved in sport miss out on to a degree. I think that is a significant benefit."

Support on Sunday needed

There are many challenges for the organisation, which is not affiliated with the GAA, not least a lack of resources.

"Yes, support has grown and clubs are much more on board and willing to facilitate girls' teams, but very often there are not enough pitches, places to train, so the girls are always going with the begging bowl, and taking whatever is on offer.

"It requires more training for coaches and mentors because they are not automatically going to be able to deal with a particular age group. That requires money, funding, and resources, which we are quite short on, and it is an area we need to become more involved in."

There is also the age old problem of trying to keep the U16s playing. "It is a challenging time, but being aware of it is half the balttle. We are looking at how to make it better, again training coaches to give them new approaches, new ways of encouraing girls to stay involved. Girls can be very sensitive at that age, and if they feel they are not good enough, they leave, but it's important to keep them involved."

Now Betty is urging everyone to head to the capital on Sunday in support of the Galway Ladies as they would for the men.

"I's a long time coming and they deserve our support. Some of these girls have given many years of commitment to Galway Ladies football. We need clubs and schools to get their supporters to Dublin on Sunday because the team is going to need them. It is very easy for Dublin girls to have support and we owe it to this team to support them in large numbers.

"Everyone needs to ask, what is in Ireland's mentally, our psyche, that we don't feel it's as important to support our ladies as our men. I really feel it's a question they should ask themselves. When you look at the thousands who would travel if the Galway men were in a final - and we did have good numbers at the semi-final - but nowhere near the numbers who would have travelled for a men's match."

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