Winter training is the toughest: wind, rain, mud.
MAS (Maximum Aerobic Speed) runs until every muscle burns.
Work during the day. Gym sessions after, deadlifts, pull-ups, press-ups, squat jumps, burpees and mountain climbers past the burn. Pushing bodies through exhaustion for passion and pride. It's worth it on game day, travelling with the team, the satisfaction of putting on the county jersey, representing your county, getting in the zone, surrounded by teammates running out to...
...an almost empty stadium.
The difference? This is Ladies' GAA.
Last weekend, the difference was stark.
On the weekend the hurling championship was salvaged by two semi-finals in white-hot cauldrons before 85,000 people and thousands more on television, the ladies' football quarter-finals were played at Pearse Park in Longford, with the three stands exposed on the television camera virtually empty. (This is partly due to the closing of the main stand for health and safety issues).
There are 2,500 GAA clubs around the country with almost 300,000 registered players. About 1.5million people attend the GAA championships from May to September last year, but the majority went to see the men.
The women’s game is becoming more popular: more matches are on TV and household brands have come on board for sponsorship. But this has not been translated to where it matters most: supporters on the sideline.
So how is it possible to change the view?
We spoke to Sinead Goldrick, captain of the Dublin ladies' football team, and Ali Twomey of Dublin's camogie team to get their ideas on how to boost attendances across the country.
Goldrick fondly remembers the crowd that filled Croke Park for the All-Ireland final in 2014, (27,374 witnessed a dramatic one-point win for Cork against Dublin), and she suggests a few initiatives as to how crowds can be boosted:
For the All Ireland final, each player was approached by their primary school, who sent supporters. The kids were really excited and added to the atmosphere on the day. I'd also encourage parents to bring daughters and sons to watch the ladies game. As a young player myself, I wanted to go and watch the ladies play. If they have a passion for the sport, they have the opportunity to find role models, to watch and learn from the best in the sport.
Support from one's club is important also, as is the channelling of social media:
A ladies senior footballer is an ambassador for her club. It would be great to see their club send a bus of supporters to back their player. Young club players can look up to every inter-county player. Social media is powerful, we should use it to encourage and organise supporters in #backingeverystep.
Ali Twomey believes that all four codes working together would help enormously, particularly when it comes to scheduling:
I’d love to see the four codes working together and consistently having double headers. Make it a full event and a big day out by having a Camogie match and a hurling match or a football match and a ladies Football match on the same pitch, the same day. An atmosphere can make a game! It would be great if matches were played in bigger pitches and stadiums such as Parnell Park, Semple Stadium or O'Moore Park, they’d be taken more seriously and are easier to access.
A consistently higher profile is important also:
Profile is everything, our games should be analysed on highlight programmes to the same extent as others and not just a 30-second clip of one out of six matches followed by a few minutes of analysis.
Players on the ladies team train as hard as the men, prepare for matches in the same way, don’t they deserve the same support? Check out the work Sinéad and Ali put in to representing their county. Is there something you or your club could do in #backingeverystep?