MICHAEL WOLSEY: Come on ye girls in green, show us how it’s done
IT has been a very good year for women’s sport, culminating in some thrilling contests at Wimbledon.
For me, it started last summer with the World Cup exploits of the Irish hockey team.
I was in Spain at the time and watched several of their games in a bar where people of all nationalities seemed to be cheering our girls in green. I’d guess most of these fans had never seen a hockey match and, like me, were pretty hazy about the rules.
There were shouts for ‘offside’ and ‘handball’ and a guy at a table beside me wondered why they couldn’t catch the ball and strike it in mid-air. “I suppose that’s the difference between camogie and hurling,” he suggested to his exasperated wife, who pointed out that he wasn’t watching camogie and tried to explain some of the finer points of hockey.
He wasn’t listening. He was too busy cheering. We all were.
It was great seeing an Irish team perform on a world stage before a big crowd. I never use that phrase ‘I’m proud to be Irish’, but I was proud that day when our hockey team qualified for the World Cup final.
For as long as there has been a game called hockey, women have played it. So it was no great surprise that it was our women’s team who made it first to the big time.
But Irish women have also been excelling at sports that were once regarded as male-only.
I was sceptical about whether women could play rugby – real rugby, not the tag version that has become so popular. In 2013 the Irish women proved me wrong, winning the Six Nations with a Grand Slam.
Next year the team – led by Niamh Briggs, the galloping garda from Waterford – beat New Zealand and topped their World Cup pool.
They won the Six Nations again the following year. The team has slipped a bit since then. But they introduced me to the women’s game which I now happily watch, knowing that it can be just as exciting as the men’s version. Or just as boring. Because there is nothing magical about women in sport. At the top level they are elite athletes and they will have good days and bad days – just like the men.
If I was sceptical about women playing rugby, I was downright hostile to the idea of women boxing. I’m not sure why. In part, I think, it was an old-fashioned view about what was appropriate for ‘ladies’ but also, to be honest, a belief that they wouldn’t be any good at a sport I have always liked.
Katie Taylor proved me wrong. She is a fine boxer with the guile, skill and courage that are the mark of true champions.
Women’s sport needs role models. And, sure enough, a string of women have followed Katie and restored Irish amateur boxing to the top rank.
I would love to see an Irish soccer team in the women’s World Cup. It was a great tournament. The women showed individual skills as good as any the men can produce. They lacked some tactical awareness, I thought, but they made up for that with other things their game lacked. There was no pouting or pretending to be injured. There were no attempts to get opposition players booked or sent off.
There were (with a few exceptions) no mass arguments with the referee. There was no segregation of the fans and no offensive songs or vicious chants about players on the other side.
Will it last, I wonder? Or will matching the success of the men’s game mean adopting its worst aspects?
I have been hearing for years how women at the top would improve the conduct of business and politics. Sadly, I see no evidence of it. Female CEOs and prime ministers behave no better than their make equivalents.
Maybe sportswomen will set a better example.