Our extensive interview with Camogie Association President Elect, Athy’s Hilda Breslin, appears in this week’s Kildare Nationalist, out now.
By Pat Costello
ATHY’S Hilda Breslin was elected President of the Camogie Association at Congress last October and will take up the role following the 2021 Congress which, Covid 19 restrictions permitting, will take place in Armagh in April.
President Elect- Hilda Breslin Photo: INPHO: Tommy Dickson
The great granddaughter of Big Jim Larkin of 1913 fame, becomes the first Kildare born person to be elected Camogie President as a previous incumbent, Joan O’Flynn, although a Celbridge resident, was originally from Cork.
Speaking to the Kildare Nationalist this week the President Elect said, “We are now at a crossroads. We can stand still and say we are happy with where the game is or we push the Association to the next level. I think we can do that and I think that the Association is worth pushing. We also have the people to push us to the next level.”
“I am thrilled that the membership has put their faith and trust in me. I come from Athy, a football town, the home of the football county champions”
“Camogie is alive and well in Athy. Camogie was first played in Kildare in Athy so there is a strong tradition of camogie here. The club itself has been in and out over the years and then about 17/18 years ago it was reformed and that was when I really became involved. I went on from there to Kildare Secretary, then to Leinster and now ultimately to national level as Uachtarain.”
Hilda Breslin will use equality of opportunity as one of her platforms during her tenure as President.
“My focus from April onwards has to be on moving forward. It’s an equality of opportunity that we are looking for all members. The opportunity to play sport and to participate in sport, whether that’s based on your gender, your economic status or your geography.”
“There are lots of things that we will look to others for but there are also lots of things that the Camogie Association have to do better. We have to ensure that whether you are based in Mayo or in Cork or you’re in Dublin that there is an equal opportunity to participate in women’s sport. To me the best sport is camogie so we want to give the opportunity to participate but that has its challenges. I don’t think any of us would be here if we were afraid to take on those challenges and to move forward with them,” she said.
Warming further to the subject the incoming President was full of praise for the 20 x 20 Campaign concerning women in sport. “The Camogie Association has been around since 1904 and it has always been a voice for women in sport. The 20 x 20 campaign galvanised that and brought it out into the open.”
“When you see stats that 2% of TV coverage is on women’s sport, 4% in newspapers it’s not acceptable any longer and it wasn’t acceptable before. I feel that now is the chance for the Camogie Association to take up that baton and push forward and make sure that we don’t go backwards. We’ve got to be aiming at getting our share of coverage, getting our share of funding and getting our opportunity to put forward women’s sport. Gone are the days when women were willing to hide behind in the kitchen. This generation and certainly the previous generation’s focus now is on taking the opportunity in a sporting environment,” Hilda Breslin said.
Former President of the GAA, Laois man, Liam O’Neill’s plans for a “one Association for Gaelic Games” seems to only have gotten as far as a Memorandum of Understanding but the new Camogie President is supportive of the plan. “We’re part of the Gaelic Games family. Families aren’t based on gender so why are our Associations based on gender? Instead of saying why should we be part of one Association, my question would be why aren’t we part of one Association?”
“We know what the benefits would be for ourselves and the GAA and we know what we can bring to the table. There are obviously concerns on people’s part but I think the leadership have got to address these concerns. We have to move forward and show leadership. If people have concerns let’s talk about those concerns, see what they are and let’s see if we can address them and then move forward with a timeline and a pathway so that we are one Association,” she says determinedly.
What of the article in the Irish Times over the Christmas period by Limerick Professor Orla Muldoon, which talked of misogyny in the GAA? It started a conversation according to Hilda Breslin and although she felt that elements in the article were wrong and elements were unfair and elements could have been better, she didn’t feel the article in itself was wrong and that there was truth in it.
“We saw many commentators come out but what I thought was interesting was we didn’t see many women come out and say this is completely wrong. We are marginalised. We are marginalised in society and we are marginalised in sport so why wouldn’t we be marginalised in the GAA?”
“I would be on record and the Camogie Association would be on record on this, we have a brilliant relationship with the GAA and we’ve always had a brilliant relationship with them. We contribute and they contribute and we are one family and we wouldn’t be where we are today without the GAA but I also think they wouldn’t be where they are today without the women who have supported them through the generations,” Ms Breslin said.
A clash of fixtures between camogie and ladies football tends to feature each year and 2020 was no different but the incoming President defends the Camogie Association on this matter saying 90% of the fixtures are coordinated and that conversations have to take place at club, county, provincial and national level to deal with the matter citing a certainty around fixtures as a necessity in allowing people to play both games. “I absolutely believe that the dual player has a place within our games. No female should be told that she has to choose and nobody should be forced to choose. I believe that’s the same with other sports and I believe it’s the same with hurling and football but it has challenges when we reach TV schedules, when we reach commercial interests. We don’t dictate when we go on RTE Sport. I would love to be able to tell you when we are going to play our games and you say that’s no problem but that’s not how it happens. When we control all of those things then we should be able to eliminate any problems,” she explained.
New Rule changes are to be brought to Congress in April, which require a two thirds majority to pass and the President Elect is supportive of the proposals. “There probably will have to be slight tweaks here or there and we will have to have an element of education as we roll it out. Our Rules are for everybody; from the U16 player in a club right up to the intercounty elite player, so it will be a body of work for us (to get it passed). I’m fully supportive of it and if the players are fully supportive then they need to get vocal about it and make sure that we get it through in April,” Ms Breslin explained.
Populated urban areas in counties like Kildare, Laois and Offaly need nurturing according to the Athy native. “There is no point in growing the game and then in two or three years losing that county. We got to make sure that we put the conditions in there to support that growth, to support the county boards, support the clubs. They are the people doing the hard work in camogie; they are the people who are keeping the game together,” the President Elect advises.
Hilda Breslin is a determined and ambitious woman but that determination and ambition is not selfish, it is for the good of the Camogie Association, its members and its players. We all wish he well during her term as President.