‘The hits in hurling and the speed it’s played at, that’s what camogie players want’

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER cry for change. 

Kilkenny star Anna Farrell is the latest camogie player to add her name to the long list of those delivering passionate arguments for change across the board.

The outdated, archaic rules are the main thing players take issue with. Their physicality has outgrown the rule book, the game has evolved through the years. 

Technically a non-contact sport, camogie referees tend to clamp down more and more on physical exchanges — slowing the game down drastically as it turns into a free-taking contest — and this obviously greatly frustrates players.

It was after the 2018 All-Ireland final in which Cork edged past Kilkenny that this all well and truly came to light. It was the tipping point, a contest marred by the stop-start nature of the game and the amount of frees awarded on the sport’s showpiece day in Croke Park.

No word about Cork’s dramatic win, no word about Kilkenny’s near miss for the second year in-a-row; it was all just negative backlash.

“It was just so hard to listen to,” Farrell tells The42 at the 2019 John West National Féile launch.

“Cork were after winning an All-Ireland and people were telling us that ‘Oh, the ref threw away the game…’ If that was us and we were after winning an All-Ireland, you’d be so thick.

“After putting all that work in, winning an All-Ireland final, and the only thing everyone is concentrating on is the referee’s decisions in the game. I’m never, ever going to blame a referee for us losing a game because the best team will always win. We could have pushed on, we could have done better ourselves…”

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The frustration comes through more and more as she casts her mind back through the past few months.

Facing Galway’s Shauna Healy in the 2019 league final.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dublin duo Eve O’Brien and Laura Twomey, Cork’s Amy O’Connor, Galway captain Sarah Dervan, countless other players at every level across the length and breadth of the country; the list goes on as she thinks of those who have spoken out.

“So many people have talked about it, so many people have stepped up and said that the rules need to change — they just need to do it. The game is not going forward.”

There was some good news at Congress two weeks ago as Rule 20.4. re: introduction of ability to trial playing rules passed with a majority of 67%, so change could be on the way sooner rather than later. But not half fast enough.

“You look at the women’s football, the crowds they had at their games, the pace that was played at. It’s not stopping and starting all the time, they get to show their skills — it looks like a men’s match it’s so good.

“With the hurling it’s completely different. The hurling is so free-flowing. We stayed and watched the Limerick and Waterford game [league final] after ours and he barely blew the whistle bar throwing it in and the odd free if it was a dangerous tackle.

“Ours is just stopping and starting all the time.”

That must be so, so frustrating for a player in the middle of a game?

“It is,” she frowns.

“You’re pushing yourself all year at training, hitting each other and running all the time. But sure, you never get to use your skill then because it’s just stopped. It’s nearly just frees at all stages of the game. You’d be kind of getting going and then there’s another stop in play for a free. It is hard to play with. 

“I think they just need to do something. Any kind of a change at all, just to even keep people interested.

“The numbers are dwindling. You could see it even at the league final, the numbers weren’t there. If you compare our All-Ireland audience to the ladies football, it wouldn’t be near in line with it.”

Just to note: the 2018 All-Ireland camogie finals day attendance was 21,467, while ladies football saw 50,141 spectators through the turnstiles at HQ.

“They need to try and follow the example of the football and what they’re doing,” Farrell says of the Camogie Association. “Obviously they’re doing the right thing.

“Camogie just need to do something about it. It’s not showing our skills, it’s not showing the work we put in, it’s just stopping and starting, loads of frees…”

Battling against Cork’s Chloe Sigerson.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

At the end of the day, if the spectacle improves, then all that goes hand-in-hand with that rises. Interest, attendances, media coverage, sponsorship. That’s a fact.

But for the spectacle to improve, players must be allowed use their physicality.

“Nearly every team is doing strength and conditioning for December, January, February,” she adds. “They’re trying to strengthen up, they’re trying to get fit so that they can hit tackles and be able to push on after that.

“The way it’s being played, it’s not letting us show what we have been doing which is frustrating for players.

“Especially physical players who, a lot of the time are just standing there and they’re still getting a free given against them even for just standing. If someone runs into them, it’s a free. You wouldn’t know. It could go either way, it could be charging or… it really could be any way,” she laughs.

But she’s deadly serious.

“We’re doing this training, the rules need to go with the flow of the game as well. It is turning into a much more physical game. 

“You can see it with the hurling, the hits in the hurling and the speed that it’s played at: that’s the way people who are playing camogie want it to be.

“No one wants it stopping, no one wants frees all the time, everyone just wants to be able to go as hard as they can for whatever time they have on the pitch.”

Kilkenny camogie star Anna Farrell was on hand to launch the 2019 John West National Féile today, and to announce the sponsorship renewal for a further four years until 2022.

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