We were always the poor relation... Glen stalwart reflects on camogie's growth

We were always the poor relation... Glen stalwart reflects on camogie's growth

Mary Newman, Nora Newman, president Glen Rovers Camogie Club, Finbarr McCarthy and Denis O’Donovan attending the Evening Echo Ladies Sports Star Awards in 2016. Born in 1930, Nora started playing camogie in 1942, and played in her first senior county final in 1949, and she recalls having to pay to play in it. Picture: Larry Cummins

THERE were a couple of funny newspaper clips circulating on social media recently.

They’re funny now but at the same time a bit of an eye opener. We criticise at times how slowly women’s progression is in terms of equality in sport.

Yet looking at how players gone before us kept the mantle flying is something we not only take for granted, but rarely give a second thought to.

This clip was taken from a newspaper back in 1967, sent in by a Cork farmer. The headline read ‘Keep Women Out of Croke Park’ and went on to say ‘Sir – Now that the All-Ireland finals are at hand again, let’s hope the GAA will bar women from attending these games, taking up valuable space.

‘To me there is nothing more revolting or unnatural than to see a pleasure-bent woman up in the city for fun and enjoyment, instead of being satisfied with her lot at home’.

Pleasure-bent? I was laughing yet at the same time a little stunned to read this. Imagine living in those times.

To find out a bit more about what camogie players endured during the early years I met with the legendary Nora Newman of Glen Rovers.

Nora remembers the era fondly.

“We had canvas boots with a rubber sole and studs. There was no such thing as tights back then.

“We had to wear black stockings. We had to wear navy underwear and your stockings had to go up to meet your underwear or your underwear had to come down to meet your stockings.

“There could be no flesh shown in between. Then during the game if you fell and your gymslip flew up on a windy day, if you were wearing light colour underwear instead of navy, you’d be brought into the board for bringing the game into disrepute,” she laughs.

“You’d wear garters to keep the stockings up and you’d have them really tight as you’d be afraid of your life they’d fall down. You’d lose concentration during the match because of it and you’d come off afterwards and your thigh would be black and blue from the tightness of the garter.

“You must remember it was the ‘war years’. We had nothing.”

Born in 1930, Nora started playing camogie in 1942. Playing in her first senior county final in 1949 she recalls having to pay to play in it.

Hospitalised at the age of 23 with TB for 12 months, Nora’s parents were advised by the specialist that he had seen a game of camogie and that if it was his daughter, he wouldn’t let her near a field. Games were tough.

“We had no facilities. We’d go to training and home in our gear. We got a hand over the ditch to go to the toilet. We loved the game. We played for the game.

“We were always the poor relation. The changes are incredible. It’s so fantastic. I’m glad I lived to see it. The GAA are our brotherhood.”

Some of Nora’s stories are hilarious.

“I remember one game in the ‘50s, one of the girl’s boyfriend had given her a cardigan for Christmas. She wore it to the game and left it on the side of the pitch. At the end of the game there was a roar. A rat had eaten her cardigan.”

Nora went into administration of the game after being sick. She was chairperson of Glen Rovers for 53 years. She is now president.

Glen Rovers All-Ireland Camogie Club champions 1990. Back Row: Nora Newman (chairperson). Marie Mackey (selector). Mary Ring, Mairead O’Leary, Tracy O’Riordan, Helena Mullins, Fiona McCarthy, Finbarr O’Neill (trainer), Linda Mellerick, Patricia Murphy, June Hamill, Mandy Kenefick, Deirdre Sutton (selector), Mary Newman (selector), Front: Claire McCarthy, Ger McCarthy, Diane Deane, Ann O’Donovan, Therese O’Callaghan, Denise Cronin, Mary Currid, Deirdre McCarthy, Fiona Twomey, and Sandie Fitzgibbon.
Glen Rovers All-Ireland Camogie Club champions 1990. Back Row: Nora Newman (chairperson). Marie Mackey (selector). Mary Ring, Mairead O’Leary, Tracy O’Riordan, Helena Mullins, Fiona McCarthy, Finbarr O’Neill (trainer), Linda Mellerick, Patricia Murphy, June Hamill, Mandy Kenefick, Deirdre Sutton (selector), Mary Newman (selector), Front: Claire McCarthy, Ger McCarthy, Diane Deane, Ann O’Donovan, Therese O’Callaghan, Denise Cronin, Mary Currid, Deirdre McCarthy, Fiona Twomey, and Sandie Fitzgibbon.

She also served as president of the Cork Camogie Board and was a selector with the Cork team that won four in a row in the 1970s.

“We were playing a match out in Bishopstown where a pitch was rented. I’d have the jerseys in plastic bags, and I’d have them hanging off the handles off the buggy. I’d get the bus to Glasheen and walk to Bishopstown.

“There was an ESB pole in the middle of the pitch. We won a free, the ball hit off the pole and went back towards our own goal. The ref didn’t know what to do so we shouted, stop the game and throw in the ball.

“Another time there was no money to line the pitch, so they burned the lines onto it.

“One of most frightening things I ever experienced was when the Glen travelled to Swatragh in Antrim in 1990 for the All-Ireland semi-final.

“I remember the chairperson of the club was waiting to meet me off the bus. She said, ‘Nora, we thought ye’d never get through. There’s a car up on the bank and another down the side. There was four men shot the day before’.

“The game wasn’t long on before a helicopter came down over us very low to the ground and started circling. My heart was in my mouth. It was the most frightening experience and you learn from everything. I appreciated then what players in the North were going through just to play the game they loved while we could go out freely.

“Greater equality stated to pick up slowly around the late 50s/early 60s.

“Sport is the greatest tonic you can have. Now and then I can pick up the phone and ring people I played against as well as with and it’s still medicine to me after all the years.

“I’d like to pay tribute to my parents and family who gave me this love for sport, who have all passed on. My late husband, who was a soccer player, and my own family now.”

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