GAA Football

London Ladies "deflated" by LGFA decision to remove them from Championship stage: Niamh Lister

The London Ladies won't play a competitive match for 22 months

DURING lockdown, the London Ladies football team was being held together by Zoom, WhatsApp and the promise of playing in this year’s All-Ireland Junior Championship.

Take out the All-Ireland and they’re depending on Zoom and WhatsApp to keep them together until 2021.

The Ladies Gaelic Football Association’s [LGFA] decision to omit them from the delayed 2020 Championship because of travel restrictions between Ireland and the UK means the Exiles won’t play a competitive match for a staggering 22 months.

In a hard-hitting statement released on Wednesday, the London Ladies said the LGFA’s decision ran contrary to promoting women’s sport and compared their predicament of no Championship football with the men’s game in which both the London footballers and hurlers are scheduled to take part in their respective Championships.

The London Ladies’ main bone of contention is the surprisingly early decision made by the LGFA to not involve the reigning British champions in the All-Ireland JFC semi-finals this year.

For the past four seasons, London have reached the last four of the All-Ireland series.

London defender and Meath native Niamh Lister says the mood among the squad after their appeal was rejected was one of “deflation” rather than anger.

“From a personal perspective I was probably in the best shape of my life and I’d say it was the same for a lot of the girls because we’ve been constantly doing things on Zoom, so many different fitness sessions online,” she said.

“It’s extremely disappointing as it’s been actually a long time since we gathered as a team. The last time I saw some of the girls was last August when we played Fermanagh in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

“Obviously the men are still expecting to compete in their respective Championships in football and hurling come October, and we understand the GAA and the LGFA are two separate organisations.

“I suppose we’re just disappointed in the lack of consistency across the decisions that have been made for men and women. We know that it is someone’s job in the LGFA to make that call, but from our own perspective, we just feel the decision was made a little bit prematurely. I think the men are holding off until September to make that decision, based on travel restrictions at that time.”

LGFA President Marie Hickey explained the Association’s decision to proceed without a British representative in the All-Ireland series.

“All along our policy has been to make decisions early,” she said.

“A lot of our members are health care workers and they’re very much in tune with what’s going on at the coalface and wanting to make sure that they don’t come in contact with it [Covid-19]...

“Ultimately, we feel that letting people know early is good, rather than having people hanging on wondering.”

However, Lister insisted the lockdown restrictions were so fluid that it was wrong to make a decision in June about a competition that doesn’t start until October.

The Simonstown Gaels player added: “There have been so many lockdown restrictions lifted over the last few months and we’d expect there to be more. What would be the most heart-breaking thing for us would be sitting home in October having watch the Championship when potentially there are no travel restrictions.

“It would be understandable if there are travel restrictions at that time, fair enough, but they could be lifted between Ireland the UK and the quarantine period could be lifted then.”

Lister, who works in analytics software, moved to London in February 2019 and got involved with Tir Chonnail Gaels and the county team in the English capital.

Now back home in Navan since St Patrick’s Day after the pandemic struck, she feels the lack of competitive action for the London Ladies could cause untold harm, especially at a time when they’ve secured a new sponsor (JLR Group) and have applied for re-admission into the National Leagues for the first time since 2008.

The Women’s Gaelic Players Association – a players' group of which Lister was one of the first reps – does not represent players outside of Ireland.

“The London county team essentially gets the 30 most passionate footballers out of a massive pool of Irish people in the city... We play because we love sport.

“Such an important part of London GAA is development and developing the younger teams, and not having a game for 22 months will have a significant impact on the county.

“We were quietly doing our own pre-season on Zoom for such a long period and that’s been tough going. We’ve new girls coming in and out and some of them have never met each other and have tried to integrate on Zoom or WhatsApp.”

Lister added: “We’re just deflated. We’re optimistic that we will be in the League next year and we’d hope the LGFA will give it deeper consideration having taken us out of the championship this year.”

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