Keep up with Armagh i

Armagh LGFA Chairperson Sinéad Reel talks all things ladies’ football

'This year it's going really well on the field and off the field and it's all positive'

The Chairperson of Armagh Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association has said she wants to see more funding and support for the sport.

Sinéad Reel, who took on the top post back in 2017, feels ladies’ football is often overlooked in contrast with its male counterpart, citing the disparities in match-day support and fewer available funding opportunities.

Growing up in the South Armagh village of Meigh, the mother-of-one has never been a stranger to the field, having gone to her first County Board meeting with her dad at the age of ten.

Alongside her work in the county, the former Sacred Heart Grammar School pupil runs and manages a locksmiths shop in Newry.

Last week Sinéad sat down with us in the Armagh I office to discuss her experience in ladies’ football and how she feels the sport needs to progress in the future.

“I have been involved in Gaelic football from the age of probably 10 and at that stage I was involved with Killeavy GAC – I played all my underage and adult football with Killeavy. I’m now a member of Silverbridge GAC and was heaving involved in coaching and playing there.”

She says her goal is to continue to promote ladies’ football through the county, explaining: “The aim is to get as many young girls involved and starting off in the grassroots with their own clubs and then eventually maybe making the move to represent the county at underage, then senior football.”

Growing up, Sinéad was playing for a club in Newry because at the time there was no ladies’ football for her age in her locality, with her dad taking her out to play.

“He was heavily involved in the club committee in Killeavy, and I tortured him to start girls’ football in Killeavy – so that was officially started in 1990,” she said.

Sinéad points to her mum and dad as her biggest inspirations in her youth.

“We were all involved in GAA in our house, and they would have taken us to all the games. Dad had a role with the County Board in Armagh, so I suppose I’m following in his footsteps!

“The two of them were always there, always ready to take us to wherever we needed to go… so, the two of them were the biggest inspiration for me to get involved in sport.”

Her love for the sport snowballed from there, leading up until Sinéad was in her late 30s, when she decided to hang the boots up and move into the non-competitive side of things.

When she started playing county football for Armagh at 13, there were no age requirements so she could have been playing with girls seven or eight years older than her.

“It was a case of just representing the county and getting the county out there. Obviously, that has changed massively now as time has gone on because of the numbers growing over the years.

“While still playing I was involved in Armagh right up until 2004 and then when my daughter appeared on the scene, I gave up the county. I continued to play club football and that’s probably when the administration side started to kick in for me.”

Sinéad took on a number of roles before the Chairperson position, all of which she undertook to try to improve things for ladies’ footballers.

She explained: “I’m not being disrespectful, but there were a lot of men involved in the committees back then who maybe weren’t in the changing rooms. Without those men, we wouldn’t be where we are today, but a woman knows what a woman’s needs are in certain respects when it comes to the sport.

“I always felt I had that upper hand to try and keep pushing, so that led me to take on the Chairperson role at the end of 2017. I’m there in that role ever since… trying to get out of it!”

She continued: “I tried to take a wee bit of a backseat on the coaching element, which I miss desperately because I love coaching kids. There are some kids in the county that are coming from sad situations at home, and this is their release and their outlet. I hope I will get back to it at some stage or another.”

Under Sinéad’s leadership, Armagh became the first ever ladies’ team to have their own training facilities – McKeever Park in Killean.

“It’s something we had spoken about 10 years ago, but the opportunity wasn’t there. Maybe about seven years ago an opportunity came up that my dad had spotted, and he said to me to bring it to the committee. Then in 2020 we started work on the pitch.

“That facility is now totally active. We have a fantastic floodlit facility there as well. There’s a lot of work to be done because we need to build a pavilion with changing rooms and catering facilities etcetera, which is going to take a lot more money.”

Sinéad says she hopes people will start to support ladies’ football more in the future.

She continued: “The only drawback is that it’s not as well supported as the men’s. I’m not going to throw the female card out there and complain that men get more than women, that’s just the way it is, but what we’re trying to do is create more awareness of the sport.

“A lot of men actually love to watch ladies Gaelic football because they think it’s a better sport, so we’re trying to create more awareness of that and get bigger crowds at matches.

“What we’re hoping then is that financial support will come along with that as it’s very hard to come by through governing bodies.

“We’re not actually recognised as a separate entity, so if we apply to certain governing bodies, ladies Gaelic football isn’t recognised whereas the GAA is, so they can apply and get funding. That’s a big brick wall for us and a door I’m trying to keep knocking. It’s been continuously closed this past couple of years.

“There is money out there, it’s just that we can’t tap into it because we’re not recognised as a separate entity. It’s a pity but it’s something I want to change and that has to come through governing bodies and local councillors getting behind ladies Gaelic football.”

She says all the Armagh ladies’ teams have had a successful year, with the seniors to face Donegal in the Ulster Final in Clones this Sunday.

“Depending on the outcome of that, they will be put into their group for the All-Ireland series which starts in June.”

She adds: “For the first time ever in our history in Armagh, we won the Division One league title in Croke Park which was our first time back up in Division One since 2017. It was brilliant for the girls who have been there so many years, and they really deserved it.

“This year it’s going really well on the field and off the field and it’s all positive.”

However, Sinéad wants to see more changes in ladies Gaelic football going forward.

“You have people who scramble to get tickets for the men’s games and we’re maybe trying to give away free tickets. People don’t think twice about going to the men’s games and we would love to change that trend.

“I think if somebody actually came to watch a spectacle of ladies football at high level they would definitely come back because it’s such a fast-paced game and it’s very physical nowadays. Women are doing strength and conditioning and work as hard as any men’s team and so they deserve the recognition and the support on match days.

“Financial help would definitely benefit everybody, but again, that’s probably down to governing bodies changing and maybe a lot more businesspeople who don’t understand or don’t follow ladies’ football but willingly support men’s football.”

You can watch the full interview with Sinéad at our YouTube channel here.

Sign Up To Our Newsletter

Most read today

More in Armagh