Joanne O’Riordan: Double-headers could be a step towards creating a level playing field

When the Ulster men’s football final in Clones was shared with the women’s Ulster football semi-final clash, everyone was a winner

Fun fact: if you’ve ever been blessed with being involved in sporting administration, you’d know that leading a country during a housing crisis is probably easier. Naturally, you don’t expect everyone to agree, especially when it comes to challenging the status quo by asking men to share their platform with women’s teams. Readers who are involved in sporting politics will totally understand. But sometimes, you’re incredibly fortunate that some people just get it.

Take the sharing of the Ulster football final in Clones with the Armagh and Cavan women’s Ulster football semi-final clash. Before Armagh played Down in the men’s semi-final, a query was brought by Armagh LGFA to Ulster GAA about the possibility of having Clones used as the venue for their clash with Cavan.

Cavan ladies agreed with the proposal, and Ulster GAA president Ciarán McLaughlin was happy to give the green light, especially given one county had both men’s and women’s teams involved in both occasions.

Armagh ladies technically forfeited home advantage for a double-header where tickets were quite literally like gold dust. There were plenty of risks – only one county had two teams involved, Clones during any big day is notorious for traffic, pints, craic and headaches, streaming wasn’t an option for a variety of reasons and getting tickets meant selling relatives and giving blood samples to verify you’re from one of the three counties.


Irrespective, there was a will from all sides to get this done. Staging double-headers during big occasions was the norm for GAA. Plenty of Munster football finals usually had Cork and Kerry senior and minor teams until Covid ended those glory days. So, the natural question was, if there wasn’t an appetite to keep minor and senior men as a double bill going, when could women slot in and fill that gap?

Munster GAA announced that they would try to organise more double-headers for men and women in their respective codes. It’s obviously a no-brainer, but given that both organisations are separate and awaiting the result of an amalgamation committee, questions can still arise about how ticket prices should be split. Agreements have to be made by each party, which means concessions, but the truth is that a fiesta of football and camogie and hurling should be what’s most important in all of this.

In other joined-up thinking strategies, FC Barcelona decided to throw both of their league-winning teams a victory parade starting at Camp Nou and finishing at the Arc de Triomf. Nearly 80,000 fans turned out, waiting to catch a glimpse of Alexia Putellas, Lucy Bronze, Xavi Hernández and Robert Lewandowski.

The parade was live-streamed across the club’s social media and YouTube channels, where fans, boys, men, girls and women were seen cheering and screaming for their favourites.

It’s another step in creating an equal playing field for both Barcelona teams; the idea from the directors of football in Barcelona is that once you see the Blaugrana on an open-top bus or on the pitch, irrespective of gender, you tune in because you know it’s Barcelona football.

That’s not to say that some women’s teams can’t bring in crowds on their own. Wembley was sold out for England’s friendly with the USA, while the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea was sold out.

The key to the whole thing is building core fanbases who will stick with the team wherever they’re playing, whether it’s Clones or Croke Park, Estadi Johan Cruyff or Camp Nou.

The LGFA, in my opinion, have put enough resources into making attendance super high for All-Ireland finals day. Converting at least half of those fans into becoming regulars at even the most depressing and coldest fixtures is critical.

All that takes collaborations, double-headers, and not giving away tickets for next to nothing. Put a value on the product you want people to go and watch. Have a bit of creativity when it comes to generating ticket sales. Atlético Madrid once put their women’s team on a bus around Madrid advertising a game in the Metropolitan Stadium. And, oddly enough, it worked.

Either way, the main goal is to establish these relationships between administrators of both men’s and women’s games. Naturally, like all environments, some resist change and are usually the loudest. But time moves on, attitudes change, and people come and go. The foundations are pretty much laid, and it’s time to build on those so most people get the opportunity to see the games that are accessible, quick and easy.