When I sat down with All-Star nominee, Dublin camogie star and DCU student Eva-Marie Elliott, she talked me through the reality of being a woman in the eyes of the GAA.
Eva-Marie spoke candidly when asked about the hardships that go along with playing the sport at the highest level of amateur sport, but receiving very little in return. She also informed me she decided not to play with Dublin this year. “I need to focus on me,” she said.
Eva-Marie, 22, started by telling me very frankly what motivates her to play camogie, “I have no great sports mantra or cheesy line that motivates me to play. It’s honestly just the feeling I get when I’m playing is one you can’t describe, it’s just a feeling.”
Eva-Marie only started playing camogie because she wanted to spend as much time as possible with her best friend. At a young age of 6, she was inseparable from her Dublin teammate Aisling Maher, “we went everywhere together, so I only started playing because I wanted to go to training with Aisling.”
When asked about where she got her GAA talents from, Eva-Marie said, “my family is not a GAA family whatsoever. My Mam and Dad are very active but neither ever played GAA. My sister is a fashion designer, and my brother is the definition of an academic. But they are all so supportive of me playing, I’m the black sheep of the family.”
Eva-Marie lives a stone’s throw away from St. Vincents GAA club in Marino, and has only ever played camogie there, “I don’t know a life without camogie to be honest. My routine has always revolved around it, and the people I’m closest have come from playing it too,” she said.
“I’m studying sports science in DCU, and play camogie with DCU as well. I train there for Dublin too. I decided to play with the Dublin team this year because I was on work placement for the whole summer with college,” Eva-Marie said when asked what was different about this year.
The love of the sport has to be a huge factor for any professional level sports player to persevere with the level of dedication required. Eva-Marie spoke about her true feelings while playing during the summer, “it is very tough at times, when you’re receiving criticism and not a lot of praise, you have to keep reminding yourself why you’re doing this.”
“You’re dedicating your whole summer to this. You need something to make you feel like what you’re doing is worth it, while watching all of your friends having the best time ever off in places like America, and Thailand, while you’re at home in Dublin training all the time and counting your calories.”
The lack of funding in women’s GAA is a constant battle for players and staff. When I asked Eva-Marie how she felt about the issues facing women in the GAA, I could see it was something that she felt very strongly about, and just wanted to have the same recognition as the men receive.
“The men’s senior hurling team get beautiful intialled everything, and we struggle to get a jumper,” she summed up in one sentence.
“What I don’t understand is the lack of organisation within camogie. We have funding, obviously not as much as the men, but they don’t spend the money in the right way. To give you an example, they order the men’s gear through the factory, saving a lot of money, but yet our gear is ordered through the shop. It doesn’t make sense.”
“We’re not getting paid, not getting any sponsorship, no promotional stuff. The trainers told us ‘oh you’ll get amazing gear’, and then they told us they got the wrong gear and we ended up getting crappy jumpers. When you are playing at the highest level of your sport I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a professional kit.”
“We are given hurls, but when you break a hurl they’re not happy. I am a very physical player, and when I’m given out to for that, it makes no sense to me. I’m not going to change the way I play in the fear of breaking my hurl,” Eva-Marie said.
When talking about her local club St Vincent’s (‘Vinnies’), you could see that she loved playing for them, “I know everyone there, I love it. Vinnies look after us very well, and I have a great relationship with my manager and my captain too, which makes such a difference.”
Comparing her Dublin team and her club team she noted “a good captain is someone that you feel you can go to if you have a personal issue, and someone who will be a voice for you and the rest of your teammates.”
The way she was playing this summer was obviously being noticed, as she was nominated for an Camogie All Star last October.
“When I heard about the All-Star nomination, it made me feel like all my hard work had paid off. Aisling received a nomination as well, which made it that much more special. To be going to this huge night was incredible, and doing it with my best friend was a bonus,” Eva-Marie said.
“I was so honoured to be nominated and didn’t expect to win. The whole night is amazing, and my whole family came which was a plus. We were joking beforehand that my brother had never seen me play a game of camogie, but he came with me to the awards.”
“I didn’t end up winning, but I didn’t expect to! Ash won and I honestly couldn’t be more proud of her. I was like a big sap balling my eyes out when she won. No better woman to receive that award,” she said while gushing about her best friend.
The success of the women’s team this year was historical, as they hadn’t gotten to the semi-final of the championship in 27 years, “It was a great year for Dublin Camogie. It does make life a lot easier when you’re winning too,” she said.
As a defender, Eva-Marie was described by GAA commentators over the summer, “it’s like coming up against a brick wall with her.”
“My Mam always says she doesn’t know where I came from. I am an aggressive player, and I love it to be honest. I love going out there and just getting pumped up and releasing all your frustration,” Eva-Marie jokingly said.
“If I wasn’t playing camogie I’d definitely play Gaelic football, or something mad like lacrosse,” she added.
She finished by saying, “but if there was one person I could have seen me play for Dublin would have been my Grandad, he was the only person in my family who was into GAA, and he would have been really proud to see me play.”
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