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We feel disregarded by an organisation we have spent our lifetime representing’

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Moate CS players celebrate following the Lidl All-Ireland Junior B Final win over Coáiste Oiriall in April 2019

Moate CS players celebrate following the Lidl All-Ireland Junior B Final win over Coáiste Oiriall in April 2019

SPORTSFILE

Moate CS players celebrate following the Lidl All-Ireland Junior B Final win over Coáiste Oiriall in April 2019

Late last week, Moate Community School's senior girls' football team had reached that watershed point hovering halfway between fury and despair.

And so vice-captain Emma Kelly released a message on behalf of her team to the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.

There is no sugar-coating the words contained therein.

"We feel disregarded by an organisation we have spent our lifetime representing," the statement declared at one point. "Every time someone would try and diss the LGFA or ladies football, we stood up for it as we believed it would do the same for us. However, this situation proves that we were wrong."

Like so many sporting controversies of recent times, the "situation" is one fomented by Covid-19 - an All-Ireland final originally fixed for last March until the coronavirus tsunami swept all before it.

But the two schools involved, Moate CS and Loreto Clonmel, are adamant that the Lidl PPS All-Ireland senior 'A' football final should not have been cancelled but rather postponed.

For Moate, such an outcome meant their first ever All-Ireland senior final would never happen. For Clonmel, it meant they could never atone for three successive years of final heartbreak, having lost the senior 'B' final in 2017 and the senior 'A' deciders in '18 and '19.

Both schools have lobbied the LGFA for months, seeking a U-turn and a 60-minute window to play their final. They were given fresh hope by the gradual easing of Covid restrictions and the resultant roadmap for reopening the GAA … but then came a double-whammy hammer blow.

Firstly, the LGFA's Management Committee reviewed the "feasibility" of completing the 2019/20 post-primary schools competition. "After much debate and taking into account all considerations, the decision to cancel the competitions last March was upheld," confirmed a July 8 email sent to the Moate CS team management and seen by the Irish Independent.

Nine days later in Tullamore, another team of young footballers from the same county - St Joseph's Rochfortbridge - claimed their first Leinster Colleges senior 'A' title after defeating a fancied Naas CBS.

Their final, another victim of the pandemic, had been rearranged. True, there would be no campaign beyond that for Rochfortbridge - the All-Ireland series has been cancelled - but at least they'd been given a one-off shot at provincial history.

If it was okay for the boys, why not the girls?

* * * * * * * * * * *

It may be all to no avail, but the campaign to compel a rethink on behalf of the LGFA is gathering pace. Already, Emma Kelly's 'Dear LGFA' post has been liked by over 2,000 people on Instagram.

On Tuesday of this week, a letter from one of the Loreto Clonmel players - Avril Geoghegan - was published in the Irish Times.

Her letter spoke of communication from players and coaches on both sides to the LGFA, "asking for this match to be played but they have rejected all our requests. This news was extremely hard to accept but even harder to accept when we found out the Boys Provincial A and B finals [in Leinster] were allowed to be played.

"This is unacceptable and sexist," Geoghegan claimed. "However, we are still not giving up on our dreams of playing our All-Ireland."

That same steely-eyed determination is obviously a feature of both teams - it may even explain how they qualified for the final in the first place. A fortnight ago, Moate CS player Shannon Mulvihill penned a letter to Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin, the new Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht.

Mulvihill's letter was prompted by confirmation that the Leinster PPS boys senior final was proceeding. The fact that this game could go ahead whereas their All-Ireland final can't be played was "disgraceful and seems completely and utterly sexist", she claimed, as well as "discriminatory" towards the players of Moate and Clonmel.

The transition year student expanded: "This decision made by the LGFA is deeply upsetting not only for our two teams but women in sport in general, as it shows that men once again are given priority over us, even when if right was right, the All-Ireland would have precedence over the Leinster final."

Mulvihill argued that the only difference between these two finals, apart from one being a Leinster decider and theirs being an All-Ireland, is that "they are boys, we are girls … to see that still in this day and age that men get priority over women is deeply saddening and makes we wonder will it ever change for generations to come."

That accusation was echoed in the Moate team's July 24 statement released by vice-captain Kelly. While happy to see Rochfortbridge bring home the cup to Westmeath, "it broke our hearts to think we don't get the chance … how can we strive for equality in sport if the men are given the chances by the GAA that the girls are denied? This sets equality back 10 years."

Sinead Grant, one of the team mentors at Loreto Clonmel, stressed that they want to give their sixth year students especially "some closure" on one aspect of their schooling after a year decimated by the lockdown.

"We've got 14 Leaving Certs on the team. They've missed out on their graduation in school; they've missed out on making memories with their friends in school the last couple of months, all the excitement," Grant told the Irish Independent.

"We're just pleading with the LGFA - they've done a fantastic job and so have the GAA in organising club and county championships for the rest of the year. All we're essentially asking for is one more game to fit into that calendar.

"Any day, anytime, anywhere. We don't mind if we have to play it behind closed doors. We don't mind what we have to do … we just want it to be played."

* * * * * * * * * * *

As ever, there are two sides to every story - and perhaps many more here in this unprecedented year of disruption.

The LGFA will not be commenting publicly on the matter, or on some of the accusations levelled in various letters and missives circulated in recent weeks.

However, it's worth stressing that the Moate/Clonmel game is not the only post-primary championship affected - six PPS competitions, three senior and three junior, were all cancelled back in March because of Covid-19.

The current public health advice embraced by Croke Park is that GAA games should be played at local level, hence the return of club competition, with inter-county activity delayed until mid-October.

National school finals are not considered local activity. The GAA has already cancelled the All-Ireland series of all schools' competitions for 2020, and it's understood the LGFA has been taking its lead from Croke Park, in line with health and government guidelines.

There are more general fears about teams from different counties and provinces converging on one place, at the risk of spreading the virus, while there is also the issue that schools are still not open and who would supervise the students travelling to a match?

And yet two Leinster PPS senior football finals - involving boys from different counties - did go ahead on Friday, July 17. Ushering in the return of competitive GAA, Rochfortbridge toppled holders Naas at Bord na Móna O'Connor Park while, on the same day at TEG Cusack Park, Coláiste Choilm Tullamore defeated Cnoc Mhuire Granard in the 'B' decider.

Enquires have confirmed that the schools involved were central to all the planning around these fixtures and in ensuring that all Covid-19 protocols were adhered to. Basically, the finals proceeded on the proviso that agreement was reached with the respective schools and the Leinster Council would facilitate them on that basis.

When contacted, Moate CS principal Tom Lowry said: "I can confirm that the management of our school is completely supportive of all efforts that are being made to try and get this final safely played."

When the same question was put to Sinead Grant, the Loreto teacher replied: "We've had in-depth conversations with our school principal and our school deputy-principal, and they are 100 percent behind backing (the team) and want the game played as well."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Obviously the LGFA has no role in overseeing boys' football and it's fair to surmise that the association is bemused by inferences that sexism played any role in its decision-making process.

But that doesn't diminish the confusion and hurt experienced by teenage footballers denied possibly the biggest day of their sporting careers.

When Moate overcame Scoil Chríost Rí Portlaoise on December 20, it ended years of Leinster final heartbreak for the group. Their All-Ireland semi-final win over Loreto Cavan on March 11 - the day before Leo Varadkar ushered Ireland into a brave new world of lockdown with no sport - left them on the cusp of history.

As last week's team message noted: "Five girls on our team are in sixth year and have previously lost five Leinster finals without winning a single one. This year was our last chance to finally get what we deserved … now we don't even get the chance to fight for it."

For Clonmel, the sense of unfulfilled destiny is perhaps greater after those previous All-Ireland losses to Rochfortbridge (in the 2017 'B' final), then Loreto Cavan (2018) and Scoil Chríost Rí Portlaoise (2019) in the last two 'A' finals.

"We're not trying to aggravate anybody," said Grant who, as a player, won an All-Ireland senior 'C' title with the school in 2011. "All we want is just 60 minutes to fit into their calendar for the rest of the year. At the end of the day, we just feel the players deserve that much."