Speech by President of Ireland Mary McAleese at the Ladies Gaelic Association All-Star Banquet

Speech by President of Ireland Mary McAleese
at the Ladies Gaelic Association All-Star Banquet

“It is just a joy to be here on what
is an historic night probably one of the most historic nights
in the history of our sporting culture in Ireland. The first
formal award ceremony for the ladies Allstars and let me
tell you there is a certain amount of controversy in our
house tonight, with me being here at all. I am going to
start with a confession and my confession is this my daughter
Emma played football with Rostrevor and she banned me from
the sideline because of certain words I was accused of saying,
that are clearly misunderstood and she subsequently apostatised
to rowing and she tells me the reason she did this was very
simple she was pretty sure that I could not walk on water.

She told me before I came out that it was a pure menace
to the game and I hope you accept this in the spirit that
it was intended. All those words on the sideline were meant
to encourage not to discourage. These awards I believe,
with a great passion, are hugely hugely important, because
they give due and proper recognition to the enormous contribution
made to Gaelic games from women of every corner of this
Island. Tonight the spotlight widens as it should, well
beyond the image, so often of men and boys who gather to
discuss our National games, in the wider spotlight we see
clearly the true picture of sporting life in Ireland In
that picture we see the role of women gathering what we
can describe, a huge huge momentum.

Is there any other game in Ireland with the potential that
his game has? I doubt it. Oscar Wilde once quipped that
football was, very well as a game for rough girls, but it
is hardly suitable for delicate boys. I’m not sure if I
would use the term rough, for certainly anyone who watched
that ladies football final just a few short weeks ago between
Mayo and Dublin could rightly say. ‘these women are tough,
they are dressed up magnificently here tonight and I don’t
know would you want to meet them under a dropping ball.
They had to be tough to make it through the gruelling months
of training, the rigours of each match to get to represent
their Co, to represent their Province, to get to All-Ireland
final day in Croke Park, it is no easy journey as all of
you know only too well.

The commitment is absolute and the outcome is always precarious,
it is always in doubt right until the final whistle, and
until recent times it is true to say, that there was very
little serious public recognition of the huge advances that
were being made in Ireland, by our lady footballers. Now
at last all the hard work is paying off, for this has undoubtedly
been a superb year of Ladies Gaelic football. That All-Ireland
final on the 5th of October was attended by a record 30,000
people and watched on TG4 by nearly 200,000 more. Clear
hard evidence that the profile, the popularity of this game
has shifted into a completely new gear, and we think here
tonight we know the best is yet to come. Mayo of course
emerged as champions yet again winning their 4th title in
5 years a truly remarkable and well deserved achievement.

I have to be careful of what I say here because you may
know that accompanying me here on the stage is a certain
lady footballer from Laois with a very strong connection
with Arás an Uachtaran so I have to be neutral, on the subject
of Mayo’s three in a row. Capt Sue Ramsbottom is not only
a trained soldier aside from being an All-Ireland winner,
a former AllStar She is also the person who recently on
radio coined a very new term when everyone else was talking
about the backdoors in the mens football championship Sue
preferred to bring the women through the patio door. The
good news for Mayo, is that Capt Sue Ramsbottom is retiring
they bad news for them is that Capt Sue Burke is back in
the game again and some of you may know she married Dermot
Burke a few short weeks ago and she even managed to get
Dermot here tonight. Before he married he was not much of
a football supporter, so yo can see the big change that
has taken place already.

So who do we say thank you for the staggering growth of
participation in ladies Gaelic football. How did it come
about that participation tripled in the past 5 years and
now that there are 85,000 members around the country. I
guess the answer is very simple, you the people in this
room, you did it step by step over many years, patience
and push, and that is how we have arrived at this remarkable
nigh tonight. Your faith your fidelity your love of this
game has brought it out from the shadows into the main stream,
you have given it a future an exhilarating and exciting
future and that is good news, not simply for Gaelic games
but for families for schools for parishes for communities
for counties for our country.

It is a huge investment in our civic strength, it is a huge
dynamic injection into our culture. The game of women’s
Gaelic sport like every sport it needs its ambassadors it
needs its heroes, and heroines it needs its leaders and
its champions they are the people who provide the inspiration,
that brings each new generation into the game and keeps
them there through all the hard days, the more difficult
days, the days when there isn’t a night like this where
you are out there and the rain is coming down and the snow
is coming down, the hard days of training a hard day when
the game is played and you walk off triumphant an d the
harder day when you walk with your heads low, because you
have to experience the heartbreak of failure.

Tonight we salute those who have been selected from a superb
field of first class athletes, to be the years 2003 special
ambassadors they are entitled to take immense pride in this
historic achievement, and we are entitled to tell them tonight
that we take immense pride in them and their achievements
I want to thank Helen O’Rourke, for the invitation that
allows me to be part of this very special night despite
my daughters reservations about it. I want to thank Helen
for all she has done for that patient way, she has doggedly
promoted the role of women in gaelic games, hard work through
hard times is at last paying off. I am thrilled to see Ladies
gaelic Football take its rightful place in the sporting
spotlight tonight I congratulate everybody involved in making
this evening so special and indeed such a success. The Ladies
Gaelic Football Association, the Sponsors TG4 and O’Neill’s
and all of you who have turned out in such numbers and such
style to show the faith, the belief, the enthusiasm, the
heart you have for this game. May the winners continue to
make us proud as they showcase the joy, the fun the unique
genius that is found only in and through sport, and is found
in a unique and special way in our gaelic games that we
are so lucky to have. If one generation, if just one generation
this fantastic heritage that we have, we wouldn’t have this
night and I think women in particular have known years of
struggle when it would have been easy to walk away and not
hand on the baton to the next generation. From Tommy’s generation
right through to today, people hand on that baton with care
and each year they have seen it grow and I think we are
at the start of something very special here tonight, and
it is thanks to you, Gur raibh Míle, Míle, Maith agaibh
go léir.”

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