What are your personal highlights from your playing career?
My personal highlights are across a number of different playing levels. At the highest level, these would have to include winning All-Ireland titles and a Player of the Match award in one of those finals. Beyond that, I was fortunate to play with a very talented group of players from Kerry, all of whom had emerged in an under-age cohort. For this reason, my own development as a player was more or less in what we would, today, describe as a talent development environment. Competing against MaryJo Curran in training – she being the Rolls Royce of her generation and possibly one of the best players of all time – was a challenge but also a very rewarding learning opportunity. As a result of this, I was lucky enough to be awarded All Stars during my career.
Outside of those highlights, I particularly enjoyed the Provincial series because I had the opportunity to play with some of the best players from Munster. At the time, Waterford and Clare were the strongest teams in
senior competition. Having the opportunity to play alongside (rather than always competing against) their top players was very rewarding. At a county and club level, winning the senior county title with Abbeydorney
and progressing to the Munster county final and All-Ireland club 7s series was personally rewarding because of the joy and pride I could see it brought to everyone involved with this team at the time.
From your experience, what are the best things about being a county player?
Mine was a county experience of a different kind in that I was born and lived in Limerick (West) but played senior county football for Kerry due to the playing opportunities available at that level at that time and my education in a North Kerry school (Tarbert Comprehensive). Wearing the county jersey became as much a source of pride for me as it did those born in Kerry. For me, the best things about being a county player were/are: the opportunity it brings to challenge oneself and develop as a player; access to higher levels of coaching; and, the opportunity to build relationships across the county and the national game as a whole. While the competitive aspect of county involvement is paramount, and understandably so, today’s players must not forget about the bigger picture, that is, the overall wellbeing of the national game as a whole in which building constructive relationships across all counties is central to the future sustainability of the game. Some of my playing ‘enemies’ became dear friends and it is clear that this level of relationship-building and the particular sense of community within women’s Gaelic football sets it apart.
Can you tell us a little about your current job, and how you arrived at this position?
I am a senior lecturer in the social sciences of sport at Ulster University. I undertook a PhD on women’s involvement in traditional-associated male sports in Ireland using sociology as my disciplinary base. This interest isn’t surprising given my sporting background (I also represented the Republic of Ireland in soccer and I was involved at A-level in Irish women’s rugby). This PhD was the first of its kind to be completed in Ireland and has
hopefully provided the basis for further work in this area. It is a glaring anomaly that women’s involvement in sport in Ireland has, until very recently, been more or less unchallenged, in political, academic and public
circles. By that, I mean unchallenged systematically and consistently because of course there are and have been very committed (but usually small) groups of people asking the challenging questions like “why do more
women not play rugby?”, “why is that women’s involvement as sports participants isn’t reflected in their composition of boards, executives and the like?” and “can we reflect more maturely and openly as a nation on the moral boundaries we set for women in sport without feeling like we losesomething?”. During my PhD, I worked in academia at UCD and, upon completion, at the University of Chester. Latterly, I have been based at the
School of Sport, Ulster University since 2008 where I remain involved in women’s sports, more as an adviser and administrator than a competitor these days!
How did you combine your sporting and professional career while still playing?
Given that I was involved at the highest competitive levels in rugby, soccer and Gaelic football while studying for my PhD and working at UCD (and Chester towards the end), it was always a challenge to combine both. In
fact, I recall very distinctly a conversation I had with my PhD supervisor, Stephen Mennell, about the possibility of taking a 6-month leave of absence effectively, from my PhD in order to devote time to my role as chair of the
committee of the women’s soccer club at UCD and a fulltime player in this team in the run-in to our inaugural participation in the UEFA Women’s Champions League tournament held in Norway that year. This gives you
some sense of the difficulties in balancing roles. During my Gaelic football playing career in particular, I spent many long hours on trains at weekends, travelling either to training or matches while studying. In fact,
the challenge to balance these demands started quite young for me as I recall sitting at the front of a bus (traveling to play Wexford in senior county league game) studying with the assistance of a teammate (who was a qualified maths teacher) two days before my Leaving Certificate. In my early professional career as a bank official, thankfully my duties did not extend into weekend hours but, since working in academia, those working hours do not fit neatly into an average 5-day working week. For many county players today, the changing nature of working roles has also meant that evenings and weekends are likely to be part of a working week (as for many others of course) so undoubtedly the demands of combining a sporting and professional career are a challenge. Add into this mix the desire of some players to have families and, in some cases, sacrifices have
to be made which don’t align well with the maximization of women’s sporting potential.
Is there anything that would have helped you to better manage this ‘dual career’?
If, in my instance, a dual career is taken to mean high-level participation in sports simultaneously, then yes. It was clear in my case that no one coach or manager considered my weekly and monthly training and playing loads across these sports. Partly for this reason, I had to take the decision not to continue to compete at more than one sport, to national level, at the same time.
How has sport helped you in a professional context?
In my case, I was fortunate to come into contact with one of the founders of the current academic discipline in which I now work, Professor Eric Dunning. He was the first to show me a pathway into which I could transform my personal insights into the challenges within, and for, women’s sports, into a potential academic career. My love of sport also became my professional life. But, prior to that, my choice of university for a BSocSc degree was made partly on the basis of their commitment to sport at the time and my very fond memories of winning All-Ireland relay titles on the old Belfield running track. The social significance of sport to modern
societies has enabled me to develop an academic career in this area such that, today, I lead a Masters programme in Sports Development and Coaching at Ulster University. This is the only programme of its kind on the
island and is underpinned by the desire to think more critically, far less emotionally, and far more clearly and analytically about sport.
What qualities of an intercounty ladies football/camogie player can be beneficial in a business/management career?
I can’t say that I am sufficiently qualified to answer this question directly. I myself am Chair of the Advisory Board of a national social enterprise, Amazing Brains which works in secondary schools throughout Ireland to promote a growth mindset, to harness motivation and develop study skills for students, their parents and teachers. In that regard, my own personal experience has shown me that I can use some transferable skills from sport, notably leadership and strategic thinking. Being involved in a formal leadership programme (Aurora through the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education) is important to formalize the skill sets that can be
transferred from sport into other professions, as well as recognizing the limits of some skills imbibed in sport!
If you had three pieces of advice for current players hoping to advance their career in the workplace, what would they be?
1. Prioritise your working career (if/when you have to) as it will be far longer and your main source of income
2. Consider careers in sport because the opportunities are opening up in a broader range of areas like sports coaching, management and sports development where postgraduate academic qualifications are now
3. Think of yourselves as a marketable commodity and always ensure that you assign value to yourself in that way. We need to set a value to women in sport that can be transferred into other environments (some more easily