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Cocaine in our clubs: how worried should we be?

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by Adam Moynihan

Championship structures and the long overdue merger with the LGFA will grab the headlines but Motion 34 at tomorrow’s GAA Congress also merits examination.

Laois club Rathdowney Errill have suggested that all club players should be required to complete courses on alcohol, gambling and substance abuse. If the motion passes, any player who lines out for their team without taking the requisite courses faces a one-match ban.

Rathdowney Errill chairman Tim Barry told RTÉ’s Marty Morrissey that he has seen young people taking cocaine. "It frightened me,” he said. “I saw the wildness that got into them after using this drug. Then I became aware that this was freely available.”

A few months ago, addiction counsellor and former Limerick hurler Ciarán Carey painted a stark picture. “It’s rippling through most villages and parishes in the country and there aren’t too many clubs where cocaine isn’t alive. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid to say that about all codes; soccer, rugby, GAA or whatever, it’s gone that serious.”

If that is the case, the first question is: why? Why is cocaine prevalent in so many of our sports clubs, even ones far removed from the hustle and bustle of urban life?

AVAILABLE

For starters, it would probably be safe to assume that drugs like cocaine are more readily available in Ireland today than they were, say, 20 years ago. It stands to reason that this is particularly true of rural Ireland.

I have also noticed a blurring of the lines between country and town clubs over the years – young men from the town and young men from the country are culturally and infrastucturally closer than ever before - and this is likely a factor in the spread of drugs in rural settings.

In Ireland in general, attitudes towards recreational drugs are gradually relaxing, and they have been for some time. There is less of a taboo now than there was 10 or 15 years ago, for example, and that trend is likely to continue.

Also, the age profile of teams has changed, particularly in the GAA. It’s a young man’s game these days, and young men are more likely to experiment with illicit drugs than guys in their mid-to-late-thirties.

HEALTH

The second question is: should we be worried? Should we be as frightened as the club chairman in Laois, who was spurred into action by the “wildness” in his neighbours’ eyes?

Health is naturally the primary concern. Abusing any substance is dangerous and the fact that cocaine is unregulated is hugely problematic. If fellas in your local are taking coke, you can be 100% certain that they have no idea where it came from or what exactly is in it. (Whether or not legalising such produce would help is perhaps a topic for another day, and without question one that is beyond my remit as a sportswriter for the Killarney Advertiser.)

There is also the sporting question of whether or not the use of recreational drugs can hinder a player’s performance on the pitch. Again, I’m not an expert, but I don’t think a doctor would contradict me if I suggested that abusing any substance over a period of time will inevitably take its toll.

PRESSURE

As potentially serious as the physical dangers are, they are not more concerning to me than the psychological ones. Personally, I would be worried about the pressure young players are under when they graduate to a senior team environment in which drug use is commonplace.

Let’s say a number of players are taking cocaine on a team night out. If you’re part of the group, it would be difficult to not be aware of it, and even being aware of it makes things awkward. While I don’t believe there would be peer pressure in an explicit, 1980’s anti-drug advert, "what are you, some kind of chicken?" kind of way, there would still be pressure. Everyone wants to fit in. “If some of the lads are taking it, do I need to take it to be one of the lads?”

The reality is that if someone really wants to try it, they will. But if an individual doesn’t want to go down that road, they shouldn’t feel as though they have to.

Courses like the ones suggested by the Rathdowney Errill chairman could be beneficial, but ultimately I think there’s a huge onus on the senior players within the group keep an eye out for their younger teammates. Be open about it. Explain that there’s no expectation for them to partake and it’s not going to change what people think of them. Drugs aren’t for everyone. Be yourself.

Even if they have been exposed to cocaine before they join the senior team - which is possible - the elder statesmen can still have a word.

The biggest problem with vices like cocaine is that you never know how someone is going to take to it. For most people, it’s a phase. For others, it becomes an addiction. The same goes for drinking for that matter, and gambling.

(As an aside, I think there is a degree of hypocrisy in this discussion. People of a certain generation will be appalled at the very notion that someone in their club might take cocaine, but they’ll turn a blind eye to club members who may have issues with alcohol or betting. Legality is a factor here, naturally, but even so. Something being legal doesn’t necessarily make it safe.)

So, yes, education is important. But when it comes down to it, if one of the lads is in trouble, or even in danger of getting themselves into trouble, the leaders in the dressing room should be there to get them out of it. Or at least to point them in the right direction.

After all, isn’t that what teammates are for?

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Kerry Camogie vow to back players in shorts/skorts controversy

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by Adam Moynihan

The Kerry County Board will back their players if they decide to defy the rulebook and wear shorts after officials at the Camogie Association’s National Congress voted to keep the controversial skort.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry Camogie chairperson Ann Marie Russell confirmed that she is fully behind the players, the vast majority of whom want the skort to be binned.

“I know there have been calls for a protest, that they would all go out the first weekend of the championship and wear shorts,” Russell said. “If the players felt that was something they wanted to do, Kerry Camogie would absolutely support them.

“It should be up to the people who it affects. It doesn’t matter to me what the players wear or what they look like. They should be comfortable.”

The punishment for not wearing the correct playing gear is a yellow card which can be followed by a red card for dissent if not rectified.

Players say the skirt-like garment is not comfortable and they were hopeful that it would finally become a thing of the past when the issue was raised at Congress in Kildare last weekend.

However, a motion by Tipperary and Kerry to replace it with shorts was defeated by 64% to 36%. A similar proposal by Great Britain and Meath which would have given players the option to choose between skorts and shorts also fell well short of the two-thirds majority required (55% against, 45% in favour).

Voting was carried out by delegates from the various county boards as well as members of central and provincial councils. The majority of voters were female.

As one of Kerry’s two delegates, Russell confirmed that she voted in line with the players’ wishes, but she fears that delegates from some counties didn’t do likewise.

“Our job as delegates is to speak on behalf of the players and I definitely felt as though that wasn’t reflected by some of the other counties. I don’t know any girl in any age group at any level that goes to training in a skort. That, in itself, should speak volumes to the powers that be. Even the counties that wanted to keep the skorts, there’s no way their girls go training in skorts. I know they don’t.

“When camogie first started, women weren’t allowed to wear pants, so they had no choice but to wear skirts. They were longer at the time and things have evolved since then. The design is better. But there is a misconception that there are shorts underneath the skirts so ‘what’s the big deal?’ They’re not shorts, they’re compression shorts. That’s not the same thing.

“And look, I’m not wearing the skorts so it doesn’t matter to me. You have to listen to the players. That’s what I feel.

“We’re making decisions that really have little relevance to us, so we really have to take our players’ opinions into it. I’m not sure how many delegates go back and ask their players about these motions before they vote on them.”

Also speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry senior player Niamh Leen outlined the specific issues players have with the skort.

“If you went around the country, I guarantee you that you’d only find a handful of girls actually training in a skort,” the Clanmaurice woman said. “I’ve never been to a training session where someone was wearing a skort. We’re all in shorts.

“The practical side of it is that they’re really uncomfortable. They’re constantly rising up and I spend the majority of the match pulling the skort down instead of concentrating on the game. It shouldn’t be that way.”

According to Leen, the discomfort felt by players is not just physical. There is also a psychological discomfort involved.

“I am very paranoid about the skort, especially the length. You spend a lot of time bending over to pick up the ball and I am conscious of it. Even if you size up, it’s still too short. The only way to counteract it is to wear Skins (base layer) underneath which I don’t really like doing because that’s not overly comfortable either.

“It should be a players’ vote at the end of the day. We’re the ones who actually have to wear them and we should be the ones having the say. But, unfortunately, it’s not up to us.

“It’s very, very annoying. I could use harsher words but it is just frustrating, you know? We’ve wanted this motion to be passed for so many years.

“Nobody I know likes playing in a skort and it’s frustrating that our own organisation aren’t taking the players into account.”

This is not the first time a proposal to replace the skort has been rejected and players will have to wait another three years for the next Congress to try to alter the rules on an official basis.

Leen believes that she and her colleagues should not have to wait that long and questions the reasoning of those delegates who voted to keep the status quo.

“Honestly, I think it’s to keep the tradition and to keep us unique, and maybe they see the skorts as being more feminine, which is just mind-boggling for me. I just don’t understand how that could be a reason to keep something that’s making girls uncomfortable.

“I understand that it’s the tradition, but sometimes traditions have to move on.”

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MATCH PREVIEW: Kerry name strong team for league final showdown with Armagh

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by Adam Moynihan

Lidl National League Division 1 Final

Kerry v Armagh

Sunday 3pm

Croke Park

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies return to Croke Park on Sunday hoping to retain their Division 1 crown and managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long have named a strong-looking line-up for their battle against Armagh.

Kerry mostly used the league for experimenting but they still managed to win five of their seven matches, enough to secure a top two finish.

Now almost all of The Kingdom’s big hitters are back in play, as evidenced by the team they have selected for this weekend’s Division 1 decider at HQ.

Eleven members of the side that lost to Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final have been selected to start against Armagh. The four “new” starters are goalkeeper Mary Ellen Bolger, full back Deirdre Kearney, midfielder Mary O’Connell and full forward Emma Dineen.

Dineen has rejoined the panel following a spell abroad and has slotted seamlessly into Kerry’s full forward line. She will be flanked by Footballer of the Year Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and the skilful Hannah O’Donoghue, who scored 1-2 against Galway a fortnight ago.

The only really notable absentee – apart from veterans like Emma Costello and Louise Galvin who haven’t yet featured for the team in 2024 – is Síofra O’Shea. The dynamic attacker, who heroically came off the bench in last year’s All-Ireland despite damaging her ACL in the lead-up to the game, is still rehabbing that serious injury.

Meanwhile, the return of All-Star defender Cáit Lynch bolsters Kerry’s back six. The Castleisland Desmonds woman has been used sparingly so far this year and she came on at half-time in that final regulation league game versus Galway.

Quill and Long are likely to call on substitutes Amy Harrington and Danielle O’Leary to make an impact if and when required.

Kerry’s sole loss in the league came at the hands of their final opponents, Armagh, who are looking to emulate what The Kingdom achieved last season by winning Division 1 at the first attempt after gaining promotion from Division 2 the previous season.

The Orchard County beat Kerry by 3-14 to 1-13 at the Athletic Grounds just over a month ago.

They flew through the regular phase of the 2024 competition, winning six games in a row before losing to Dublin in Round 7 with many key players being rested.

Star forward Aimee Mackin has been in blistering form. She has racked up 6-21 (4-15 from play) to date, including 2-6 (1-6 from play) in that meeting between the eventual finalists in March.

Armagh had not yet named their team for the final as this article was being published.

This match forms part of a double header with the Division 2 final between Kildare and Tyrone (1pm). Both games will be televised live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh:

1. Mary Ellen Bolger (Southern Gaels)

2. Cáit Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

3. Deirdre Kearney (Na Gaeil)

4. Eilís Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

5. Aishling O’Connell (Scartaglin)

6. Ciara Murphy (MKL Gaels)

7. Kayleigh Cronin (Dr Crokes)

8. Mary O’Connell (Na Gaeil)

9. Anna Galvin (Southern Gaels)

10. Niamh Carmody (Captain – Finuge/St Senan’s)

11. Niamh Ní Chonchúir (Corca Dhuibhne)

12. Lorraine Scanlon (Castleisland Desmonds)

13. Hannah O’Donoghue (Beaufort)

14. Emma Dineen (Glenflesk)

15. Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Corca Dhuibhne)

Subs: Ciara Butler, Danielle O’Leary, Amy Harrington, Ciara McCarthy, Ciara O’Brien, Katie Brosnan, Aoife Dillane, Bríd O’Connor, Kate O’Sullivan, Eilís O’Connor, Fay O’Donoghue, Jess Gill, Róisín Smith, Siobhán Burns, Keri-Ann Hanrahan.

Follow Adam on Twitter/X for all the latest updates from the Ladies Division 1 final at Croke Park

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