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New Legion diversity officer Joanne aims to create safe space for all

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by Adam Moynihan

The Killarney Legion’s new Diversity and Inclusion Officer Joanne O’Riordan has set her sights on creating a safe space for everyone who wants to join the club, including wheelchair users, asylum seekers and members of the LGBT community.

O’Riordan, a 26-year-old journalist from County Cork, is a wheelchair user herself and is widely know in Irish sporting circles for her work as an inclusivity advocate.

As well as writing for the Irish Times, she also presents A Sporting Chance, an RTÉ documentary exploring women’s sport in Ireland.

She was given a lifetime membership of the Legion in 2014 after a chance meeting with club legend and Radio Kerry broadcaster Weeshie Fogarty.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser this week, O’Riordan said she is “delighted” to be taking up this new position with her adoptive club.

“For me, what it’s about is trying to get more people involved in Legion GAA, and it’s not just people in wheelchairs,” she revealed. “It’s about creating a safe space for LGBT players, refugees, asylum seekers, a whole spectrum of people.

“We’re very fortunate [in the media] that we get to meet an incredible amount of people who do incredible work every day, so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I just have to reach out to these people and hope that they can share their expertise and their experiences. Maybe I can rob some of their ideas!”

Club chairman David Randles says that Joanne will be "an extremely valuable addition to our team and her life experiences will benefit our club no end".

Although O’Riordan believes that progress has been made in recent years when it comes to inclusivity in the GAA, she still feels there is room for improvement.

“I think the GAA are trying but where they fall down is they literally have one person for this entire job on a national level. That’s very hard for one person to do. I think we fall down there in that regard.

“These messages like ‘give respect, get respect’ and ‘say no to racism’ get lost. They’re all just taglines that have no real back-up.

“My niece plays U12 with our local club, Dromtariffe, and she doesn’t see any differences [in people]. It’s actually when she goes outside the pitch and she listens to adults talking, she learns that differences do exist and she starts picking up casual remarks. I think that’s really unfortunate.

“It’s about tackling people’s perceptions really, and that’s a very hard thing to do. When you go to a GAA match you don’t expect to hear a racist or homophobic comment on the sideline… It’s really hard to tell someone that they have an unconscious bias because people don’t like to hear it. They like to believe that they think everybody is equal. It’s about raising awareness from that perspective.

“I think having a safe space to call it out is important too.”

As for her relationship with the Legion, O’Riordan fondly recalls being welcomed into the club seven years ago.

“I was honoured to be interviewed by Weeshie at a golf event in Killarney. That was insane for me. He asked me would I mind coming to Legion for their annual awards ceremony. Then he presented me with lifetime membership, which I didn’t expect.

“I think me and my father bonded with the club more than anything. We liked the players and they were incredibly sound. They had a good run in 2015, reaching the county final.”

The team’s fortunes have been mixed since: they won the East Kerry Championship in 2019 before getting relegated from senior in 2021. On Sunday they face An Ghaeltacht in the semi-final of the Intermediate Championship. O’Riordan is optimistic.

“As dad says, you’ve got to have a lot of downs to have a lot of ups, so hopefully this year we’ll have another ‘up’.”

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Opinion: Talk of sacrosanct jerseys and an apolitical GAA just doesn’t ring true

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by Adam Moynihan

The GAA recently refused the Mayo footballers’ request to wear rainbow-coloured numbers on their jerseys in the 2023 National League. The Association reportedly told the Mayo county board that playing gear is “sacrosanct”.

Let’s be honest: that’s not strictly true. In 2021, sleeve sponsors were given the green light, to add to the chest and upper back sponsors that already appear on many counties’ shirts.

Four branded areas on a jersey. That’s more than the Premier League allow, and the Premier League is regarded as one of the most money-hungry sporting bodies on the planet. I suppose everything is sacred until there’s money on the table.

The GAA’s response to Mayo and their charity partner Mindspace Mayo, who came up with the idea, has drawn a mixed reaction. Some have claimed that it’s a missed opportunity, but the ‘keep politics out of sport’ brigade are also out in force. That’s one argument I just can’t get on board with in general and it rings especially hollow in the world of Gaelic games.

Sports and politics have always been intertwined and the GAA is no different. The very foundation of the GAA was a political statement of sorts, an act of patriotism under British imperial rule. These strong ties between our national games and our nation’s political history are regularly highlighted by the Association itself and by stakeholders within it. In recent years, several teams, including the Cork footballers and hurlers, have worn jerseys commemorating Irish political figures.

O’Neills, the GAA’s primary kit supplier, sell Michael Collins-themed GAA shirts as well as 1916 jerseys with images of the post-Rising GPO on the front and Poblacht na hÉireann on the back.

Leaving all that to one side, it’s also worth pointing out that the Mayo footballers were not trying to make a political statement anyway. The aim of such projects is to make members of LGBTQ+ community feel welcome and to raise awareness around inclusivity, diversity and discrimination. We’re talking about human rights and basic human decency here, not politics.

There are those who say discrimination isn’t a problem in the GAA, that everyone is welcome already. If that is the case then why are there no openly gay intercounty players? It’s very likely that they do exist, and it’s also very likely that they’re worried about how they will be received if they come out. One of the top teams deciding to wear rainbow numbers might seem like a small gesture – I’ve seen plenty of people claiming that it would be meaningless – but doing so might provide reassurance to a gay player or supporter who is struggling with their sexuality. Would that not make it worthwhile?

Of course, whenever someone tries to do something positive in the name of inclusion, the term “virtue signalling” is inevitably thrown out there. This week, it’s the Mayo footballers’ turn to bear the brunt of it.

Funnily enough, the people who tend to use this term are often saying more about themselves than the people they’re targeting. In their own minds, when they see a person speaking up for a group that is less privileged, the only possible explanation they can come up with is that the person in question is seeking praise.

It’s a pretty narrow way of viewing the world but unfortunately that’s just how some people’s minds are shaped.

In defence of the GAA, they have not issued a blanket ban on rainbow colours. Thankfully this isn’t the Qatar World Cup we’re talking about. In the 2020 All-Ireland semi-final, players from Mayo and Tipperary, along with referee David Gough and his officials, participated in the Rainbow Laces campaign. It is understood that the GAA don’t have an issue with laces or armbands being worn in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

The only slight problem is that the Rainbow Laces campaign tends to run towards the end of the calendar year which suits the Premier League, for example, but not the GAA as the intercounty season ends much earlier. (2020 was an exception due to the pandemic.)

Of course, there’s nothing stopping the GPA and the GAA from coming together and organising their own campaign, if they want to.

It’s one thing saying that everyone is welcome and that the GAA is where we all belong. It’s another thing showing it.

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Killarney Valley AC named Club of the Year at national awards ceremony

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Members of Killarney Valley Athletics Club had cause for celebration on Wednesday as they picked up the prestigious Development Club of the Year prize at the 123.ie National Athletics Awards.

The award is handed out annually to a club who have made a positive impact on behalf of the sport within their community.

Sprinter Sarah Leahy of Killarney Valley and UL was also honoured with the Female University Athlete of the Year award.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, coach and committee member Tomás Griffin said he and his clubmates were “delighted” and “very proud” to accept the Club Development award on behalf of all their athletes, coaches and administrators. The opening of their new track alongside St Brendan’s College in 2020 has been crucial, Griffin explained.

“The facility a catalyst but the passion was always there and we had people doing their best and coaching long before there was a track. To see the momentum that came with the opening of the track being maintained is great. We now have a waiting list of people looking to join the club.

“Did we see ourselves winning an award like this, in an organisation of 53,000 members and 400 clubs? No. But was it always possible? Yes. Killarney as a town across all sports – Gaelic football, soccer, basketball, cycling, judo, rock climbing – it’s a place where people excel. The bar is already raised. But being able to reach this level and achieve what we have in just two years shows what other talent is out there.”

Killarney Valley now boast five Irish internationals, 320 registered members and 22 Athletics Ireland accredited coaches. The club won 107 provincial and national medals in 2022, and they had 155 graduates from their Couch to 5k programme. Many of these participants are now regulars in the local Park Run and are continuing their personal health and fitness journeys with the club.

Nine Killarney Valley representatives attended the awards ceremony on Wednesday: Tomás Griffin, Jerry Griffin (chairperson), Bríd Stack, Gene Courtney, Con Lynch, Karen Smith, Sarah Leahy, Jordan Lee, and Madie Wilson-Walker. Sarah’s parents Mike and Marie also made the journey.

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