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Colm Cavanagh: Taylor a proper influencer for girls hoping to reach the top in their chosen sport

'I have watched and rewatched her fight from last weekend and am in awe. The mental and physical strength, the tenacity, the resilience and her graciousness in victory are just beyond admirable' Picture: Frank Franklin II/AP
COLM CAVANAGH

2022 has seen a long overdue recognition of the achievements of women in sports. It has taken a long time and there is certainly a very long way to go but over the past few months media, and more specifically social media, are finally beginning to champion women’s sporting achievements.

Katie Taylor has been monumental in this advancement. She is an extremely talented athlete and from listening to podcasts and reading interviews with her, she comes across as a very genuine, humble person who just wants women’s sports to be talked about at the same level as men’s sports.

I have watched and rewatched her fight from last weekend and am in awe. The mental and physical strength, the tenacity, the resilience and her graciousness in victory are just beyond admirable. A proper influencer.

It was only after reading up on Katie’s training and background that I have learnt that she was previously a soccer player and that ladies were not permitted to fight in boxing competitions. Female boxing was introduced to the Olympics for the first time in London 2012 when we saw Katie fulfil her ambition and win gold on the world stage. More importantly, she was proving to the world that female sport could be just as entertaining as their male counterparts. She has since gone on to put female boxing (and ladies' sports in general) firmly on the map, winning and retaining every belt she has fought for.

The pride held for Katie Taylor follows closely the recent achievements of Rachael Blackmore who will certainly need an extension to her trophy cabinet after the season she is having. Again, she comes across as very unassuming, very quietly confident in her abilities but completely determined to prove that female jockeys have a place on any podium and the ability and strength to be in a winning position against any male jockey.

Kellie Harrington’s Olympic gold in boxing and Leona Maguire becoming the first Irish winner of an LPGA event have highlighted the breadth and depth of Irish female sporting talent on the world stage. Long may it continue.

Cora Staunton is a name synonymous with ladies' football. Her achievements throughout her career speak for themselves and her ability to adapt her skills to play football professionally in Australia, taking up the sport at 35 years old, is incredible, especially after some of the injuries she has endured. Any team would be delighted to have her on their side even in these twilight years of her career.

The issue for me is that, being completely honest, if we were asked to name five All-Ireland winning ladies we would struggle. That may be personal ignorance but I genuinely couldn’t. I could name five Irish female champions across a range of sports but not between ladies' football and camogie.

Is that because I am from a household of boys? I don’t think so. The Moy have had a ladies' football team for as long as I remember, neighbouring club Eglish have always had a very successful camogie club and yet I don’t think I’m the only one who will say that I’ve never attended a match or watched a ladies' final at any level in either sport.

In the current era of social media advertising and the promotion of health and fitness, how can this still be the case? How can there be sell-out crowds and a countrywide scramble for tickets for the men’s All-Ireland final yet the ladies' football final has 20,000 empty seats in Croke Park? Is it funding? Is it marketing? It isn’t for the lack of skill or intensity in the game so why isn’t it being promoted and talked about at the same level as the men?

England ladies won the rugby's Six Nations a few weeks ago with a record attendance of 15,836. There were over 13,000 at Donegal vArmagh in the Ulster Championship last weekend. This makes it clear that it isn’t just ladies' football or camogie where the balance is off. In fact, relatively speaking the GAA is promoting our ladies' games better than other sports but there is still vast room for improvement.

I think the biggest thing that needs to change is our attitudes towards ladies' gaelic sports, my own included. Just like we are all in awe of the achievements of Katie Taylor and Rachael Blackmore, why couldn’t we at least have respect for our local ladies' club (whether it be football or camogie) and promote the games, promote the players and recognise their achievements in mainstream media rather than a sideline piece.

The next Cora Staunton could be within our local club (An Mhaigh has a few very talented ladies coming through the ranks currently) and unless attitudes change I don’t think any amount of funding or marketing will be able to strike the balance between men's and ladies' gaelic games.

My daughter is coming to the age now where she is able to join all the local clubs and societies and discover which sport or hobby she enjoys the most. Having so many female sports people prevalent in the media can only be great for young girls to look up to. Rather than having ambitions of becoming a blogger or a ‘YouTuber’ if we can change the psyche to wanting to emulate any of these outstanding women instead, then all their blood, sweat and tears will certainly be worth it.

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