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‘Rainbow Laces is a great initiative… It’s something the GAA should be doing’ – Darran O’Sullivan

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Former Kerry footballer Darran O’Sullivan believes the GAA should follow the Premier League’s lead by taking part in the Rainbow Laces campaign.

A number of sporting bodies in the UK recently participated in Rainbow Laces, an initiative set up in 2013 to help create more LGBT-inclusive sports environments.

As part of the campaign, Premier League players sported rainbow-coloured laces and captain’s armbands, rainbow-coloured welcome mats were rolled out outside stadia and Sky Sports incorporated rainbow-coloured graphics into their live football programming and highlights shows.

The increased visibility appears to be having an effect. A poll carried out by Stonewall, the UK-based equality charity behind Rainbow Laces, shows that 65% of the British public now believe that it’s important for anti-LGBT language to be challenged at live sporting events, a 7% increase on last year.

However, Stonewall also revealed that 43% of LGBT people still feel that sporting events are not welcoming environments for them.

Speaking exclusively to the Killarney Advertiser, O’Sullivan, who played for Kerry from 2005 until 2018, praised the campaign and encouraged the GAA to follow suit.

“I think Rainbow Laces is a great initiative and it is something the GAA should be doing,” he said.

“The GAA is extremely powerful and it's a very open, welcoming place at the moment. You have players who didn’t grow up in Ireland, people from totally different backgrounds, who are all welcomed. It’s very inclusive, and that’s the way it should be.

“[Rainbow Laces] is a great way of encouraging players to be themselves. You have more and more players now who are not just going along with what you’d expect GAA players to be. Like other sports, the GAA has to move with the times as well and make sure that it’s more open, that you don’t have to be a stereotype to be a GAA player; you can be any type of person.

“I think the GAA needs to move along, and they are quite open to these things.

"An initiative like the Rainbow Laces would go a long way. It would be a good thing for the GAA to do, even if it was only for one weekend a year.”

When contacted by the Killarney Advertiser, Stonewall said that they would like to see Rainbow Laces in the GAA.

"The whole campaign is about inclusion for LGBT people across all sport, so we absolutely have aspirations to go as far and wide as possible," a spokesperson said. "We would definitely support teams and clubs in Ireland to get involved if they’re interested."

CHANGES

O'Sullivan, a four-time All-Ireland-winner and former Kerry captain, says he doesn’t recall homophobic language or anti-LGBT discourse ever being prevalent in a Kerry dressing room, although he does acknowledge that times, and attitudes, have changed.

“Maybe it was something that I just wasn’t picking up on. It was never really a topic in our dressing room.

“The one thing I will say is that over the years I think fellas have become more sensitive to other people’s feelings and are more aware of other people than we would have been at the start [of his career].

“I think that comes with growing and having a bit more of an education around mental health. As the years have gone on and younger players – I suppose the more modern day players – have come in, fellas are a bit more aware that it’s not just players beside you, it’s people. If a fella is feeling a bit off, they take note of these things and they’re more open about talking.”

Cork hurler Dónal Óg Cusack came out in 2009 but since his retirement in 2013, the GAA has had no other openly gay male players. Have things progressed enough for a gay Kerry player, if one existed now or in the future, to come out?

“I don’t think there would be any problem with a player coming out in the GAA,” the Glenbeigh-Glencar clubman said.

“I think his teammates would be the first to stand around him and make sure he knows that he’s still the same person and nothing has changed."

"I think [in the dressing room] is where he’d get the most support. They’re the guys he spends four or five days a week with. They’re the guys who probably know him better than anyone else.

“That would end up being his safe place.

“The GAA and Irish people in general, especially the younger generation, are a lot more open, a lot more understanding. A GAA dressing room would be a safe place for someone, somewhere they could feel comfortable to be themselves.

“At the moment I think it would nearly be easier for a player at intercounty level to come out than at club level. At club level, it might be a bit tougher because someone might say something off the bat, in anger or in jest, and not think about the consequences.

“At intercounty level with the media attention that’s on it and the professionalism of players at the moment, I think it would be a fairly safe place.”

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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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