Women in Sport: President of The Camogie Association Aileen Lawlor 4 years ago

Women in Sport: President of The Camogie Association Aileen Lawlor

President of the Camogie Association Aileen Lawlor is coming to the end of her three-year term this coming March.

After becoming President Elect in March 2011, Aileen was voted in as President at Congress in March 2012 and now, as the end of her term draws near, she talks to Her.ie about a life surrounded with camogie.

Originally from Dublin, but living in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath for the last 26 years, Aileen began her camogie career with Crumlin in Dublin and the Dublin county team.

Despite moving to the midlands, she continued to commute to Dublin for training for two years before finally making the move to St Munna’s camogie club in Turin, Co. Westmeath and later played for the Lake County team.

Looking back on how her life-long interest in camogie began, Aileen credits her sister Anne for kick-starting a love affair with the game.

Aileen Lawlor presents Anna Geary with the cup 14/9/2014
Aileen Lawlor presents Anna Geary with the cup in September. 

“My older sister Anne “made me go” as a young eight-year-old,” she recalled. “She was one of the founder members of our club which was called Cuchuclainn at first then in the early 80’s we joined Crumlin GAA who had no camogie team hence the name change.

“I played on the senior team with three of my other sisters, Anne, Barbara and Yvonne. They say Gaelic Games is all about family and communities and we had a ready-made family with four of us on the same team!

“My parents brought us to all the games,” she continued. “l come from a family of nine, and our family car was a mini bus, so that came in useful for transporting teams to matches!

“From there I won two senior county titles with Crumlin along with one Senior Leinster and one Senior Club All-Ireland. I also won three Leinster titles with Dublin, a Senior National League with Dublin and one Interprovincial medal with Leinster."

Her success did not finish there though as she goes on to explain.

“I then won 18 senior championships with St. Munna’s, won one Leinster with Westmeath and I refereed two All-Ireland finals in Croke Park, a Senior and a Junior.”

Michael D. Higgins and Aileen Lawlor 14/9/2014
Aileen pictured with President Michael D. Higgins at the All-Ireland finals. 

Despite the huge commitment needed as a player, it wasn’t long before Aileen began to get involved with the running of the club.

“It began when I was a juvenile delegate to Dublin County Board,” she explained. “Then with my club in Westmeath, St. Munna’s, l held the positions of Chairperson, Secretary, PRO, Delegate to Westmeath County Board, Delegate to Congress, Underage Coach and Senior selector,” she smiled.

“I was also Treasurer and Chairperson of Westmeath County Board and I was Leinster Co-ordinator for the Leinster leagues for three years. I was National Secretary of the Referees Committee for five years,” she continued.

“Then, at the Congress held in March 2011, I became President Elect for one year, then took over as President in March 2012. I will finish my term at Congress this coming March.

“It’s truly a great honour and a privilege to be the leader of an organisation l joined when l was eight years old,” she stated. “It is a very proud time for me and my family to have this honour.

“I have met lots of people while in this role, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland spreading the “gospel”!" she laughed.

liberty launch 3
Pictured at the Liberty Insurance launch. 

“I have had the opportunity to travel to the USA a couple of times to the Adult and Youth championships, and it is fantastic to see how strong Gaelic Games is abroad.

"On top of that, I have visited Melbourne, Australia to watch and then present the trophies at the Australasian Games.

“It is great to see camogie played outside of this country is makes me feel even more proud of our game. I have enjoyed working with the Presidents of the other codes in Gaelic Games. Liam O’Neill has been a great friend to camogie and has brought the concept of integration of the three codes to a new level. l look forward to this happening in the very near future."

guard of honour 2012
Aileen is given a Guard of Honour. 

“From a personal point of view, I initiated the first camogie Referees Academy during my term. As a former referee, l had a particular interest in minding and assisting these very important officials in our association. No game could be played without them.

“Over recent years, the number of female referees at inter-county level had dwindled down to just one senior inter-county referee. So l initiated the inaugural Referees Academy which was run by the National Referees Committee and led by Peter Downey - a referee from Cork. Today - two years on - we have 13 female referees on the National panel and it’s still growing.

“I am also delighted at the success we have had with new sponsors. I took a particular interest in seeking sponsorship during my tenure and I was very active in acquiring this. When l came into the presidency we were coming into our third year with no national sponsor.

“It was very hard to secure a sponsor in a recession, but with great assistance from the GAA we negotiated the sponsorship with Liberty Insurance for our National Championships in 2013. I was also involved in securing the sponsorship of AIB for our All-Ireland Club Championships.

“We never had a sponsor for the All-Ireland Club competition and these were both exciting new ventures, particularly as both Liberty and AIB were joint sponsors of two codes, GAA and the Camogie Association.”

So how has she managed to juggle running such a massive organisation on top of working and being a mother-of-four?

“My role for the last three years is a voluntary role. I don’t have a base as such. I operate between the camogie office and Croke Park, and work from home also."

St Munnas Camogie team 14/9/2014
Pictured with members of St Munna's camogie club. 

“I am a paediatric nurse working in Mullingar. Even though my nursing hours are small, it has been tough keeping it going as the time commitment needed for the Presidency role is enormous.

“I travel around 2.000 miles a month. l have visited many clubs all over Ireland, England, Belgium, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York, Boston and Melbourne.

“It has been quite difficult to juggle everything. l have had a very long career in camogie. I have played, refereed, and administered over the last four decades and had four kids along the way.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my husband Donal. Because I have a strong passion for the game I am happy to juggle home, career and sport, and the juggling comes a little easier with the support of Donal and my family.

“Any regrets? No. Only that l would like to do more. Time flies, and some jobs l would have liked to have seen completed weren’t, but l would be happy in knowing that l have contributed to the development and growth of camogie during my term.

“I have had a great term in office, and l wouldn’t have had such a great experience if l didn’t have the support of the people from all the clubs, counties and provinces. The full-time team work very hard, and thousands of volunteers give of their time every day to promote and develop camogie.

“I thank them all for their work and support to me over the last three years. It has been an incredible journey - one l will treasure and never forget. I wish my successor Catherine Neary all the very best and she knows l will be there to support her along her journey.

“I would like to see more PR coverage in the papers, on the TV and on all social media, also there needs to be more recognition for our camogie players, like our male counterparts - equal coverage for the women would be fantastic.

“My highlight of it all? That has to be the first ever joint sponsorship of camogie and hurling by Liberty Insurance and AIB in 2013.

“There have been so many favourite moments, it’s hard to pick just one. Cork dual players Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley and Angela Walsh winning an All-Ireland camogie medal and an All-Ireland Football medal within two weeks of each other in 2014 was an incredible achievement by any athlete."

Video via YouTube/TG4

“The goal scored by Wexford star Ursula Jacob in the Senior All-Ireland final in Croke Park in 2012 was sublime. It was voted “The Goal of the Year” out of all gaelic sports, both male and female.

“The YouTube video of that goal went viral in a very short space of time after the game. Those would be just some of the highlights.”

What advice would she give younger players?

“Enjoy the game, don’t tolerate anyone shouting at you. Playing camogie should be about having fun, making friends and getting healthy exercise in the process. Too much emphasis is put on winning.

“I tell them that being part of a team sport teaches children and adults discipline, learning to take instruction, co-operating with team mates, and taking on responsibilities.

“There are plenty of sports out there for everyone, the important thing is to find the one you like and to be the best you can at it.  The main thing is to enjoy that sport - whatever you choose."

Looking ahead to 2015’s season, we asked Aileen for her predictions.

“Predictions are always hard before a year even begins. Players come and go in camogie with family life often taking priority within a given season."

Launch of 2015 Liberty Insurance GAA Annual Games Development Conference 3/12/2014

“I suppose Laois were on hard luck in the All-Ireland Junior final this year losing to Down, so they should be strong contenders for the title in 2015.

“In the Intermediate and Senior, Kilkenny will be strong. And of course we can never write off Cork or Wexford. Clare have been doing well in recent years also so we will have to wait and see.

“The best thing to do to find out who will take all those titles in September is to come and see for yourself. Three brilliant games will be played, that’s for sure, no matter who the participating counties will be.The championship is special and so the games will be too.”