Gathered in the County Museum Dundalk, a room full of people passionate about women in sport. "Sidelines,Tramlines and Hemlines" saw notable speakers educate the room on different aspects of women in sport, from the history of women's sport in Ireland to present day initiatives in place today.
Writer and camogie player Louise Nealon praised the family created in sports clubs. Capturing the audience, she shared her story and the impact sport had on her life.
Nealon, plays camogie for her local club Cappagh in Kildare.
She originally gave up playing camogie as she put too much pressure on herself. If she didn’t play well during a match, she’d torture herself by going over her mistakes again and again in her mind. This impacted her mental health as she strived for perfection and didn't enjoy the sport.
Understanding the negative impact on her wellbeing, she made a change and changed her approach. Now, she lists three things she did well and three things she can improve on. “I trained myself not to think negatively. Actually I tried not to think at all,” she said.
“Playing alongside these women makes me feel very alive and very human,” she said. She lovingly discussed the players, the team, the family and the community in Cappagh GAA Club. For Nealon, it was the support network and relationships the sport created that mattered. Her team experienced loss, not of matches, but loss of loved ones. The family Cappagh camogie created, rallied around each team member in their time of need. This is what Nealon values.
FIFA referee Michelle O’Neill, who was the first ever Irish official to be in a World Cup final, also spoke at the conference.
“I knew I was ready and nothing was gonna stop me getting to the final.”
O’Neill was an assistant referee at the Women’s World Cup final between the US and the Netherlands. She also refereed the UEFA Supercup between Liverpool and Chelsea last year.
An inspiration to referees in Ireland.
Over the years, people have told O’Neill she only got those jobs because she’s a woman. Her answer to that: “Rewind there now and I’ll tell you (about all my experience).”
O’Neill’s an experienced referee, with 11 years under her belt. She enrolled in the FAI School of Excellence and got onto the League of Ireland official panel. She didn’t see another female referee until she was four years into her career.
The World Cup Final and UEFA Supercup were exciting occasions for the officiating team, she said. They loved every minute and wanted to truly show the world what they could do. With some people doubting and questioning, they showed the utmost professionalism.
“We worked hard to be where we are, we deserve to be where we are.”
CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport Mary O’Connor said the 20x20 campaign wants “young girls to be given the opportunity to see other women play sport.”
The 20x20 campaign set targets to increase visibility, participation and attendance in women's sport by 20% in 2020.
Although there has been change across Ireland, O’Connor said women in sport still haven’t received as much print coverage as they would like. She wants 20x20 “to be sustainable” after it finishes later this year.