International Women’s Day 2022: Celebrating Women Blazing a Trail to #BreakTheBias in Sport
It has been an exciting time for women’s sport in Ireland in the last number of years. Since the 20x20 campaign launched in 2018, participation, attendance and viewership figures are all up with records being set left, right, and centre across multiple sports.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, we are highlighting some of the Irish female athletes who are blazing a trail in their respective sports. Sports that, traditionally, have been dominated by their male counterparts.
International Women's Day 2022 is about celebrating women's achievements, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality.
Katie McCabe – Soccer
Soccer in Ireland, in general, is seeing a bit of a resurgence in recent times after a few years of what could only be described as apathy at best. While the men’s team are still the more popular of the two, the progress being made in the women’s game cannot be ignored. And of the beneficiaries of this progress is Ireland skipper Katie McCabe.
The Tallaght native has seen her stock skyrocket in recent years. In her club career, she is one of the first names on the team sheet for Women’s Super League juggernaut Arsenal. She has played at the highest level of women’s club football, the Women’s Champions League and is a regular contributor of assists and spectacular goals from her position at wing-back. With five goals and 12 assists, she was named in the WSL 2020-21 Team of the Year.
McCabe in action for Arsenal against PSG. Credit: The 42
McCabe has been equally impressive when wearing the green jersey. In August 2017, she was named the captain of the Irish Women’s National Team at just 21 years old, the youngest captain in the team’s history. She has made 60 appearances for her country and played a key role in negotiations that saw the implementation of equal pay for the men’s and women’s national teams. At just 26 years old, McCabe still has plenty of exciting playing years ahead of her and will have her sights set on a 2023 Women’s World Cup berth.
Kellie Harrington – Boxing
One might think that the excitement around women’s boxing in Ireland might have reached its limit with the continued success of Katie Taylor on an international stage. Not if Kellie Harrington has anything to do with it.
Her outgoing and friendly demeanour had already endeared her to a national audience. But if her on-screen persona was enough to capture the Irish public’s imagination, her ability in the ring most certainly captured Irish hearts.
Winning a gold medal in the 2018 World Championships in New Delhi was a fantastic achievement in itself. To follow it up with reaching the pinnacle of amateur boxing, winning a gold medal at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, was enough to solidify her place as one of Ireland’s finest athletes.
Harrington in the aftermath of victory at Tokyo 2020. Credit: RTÉ
On her return from Tokyo, it became quite clear that she was not just the pride and joy of North inner-city Dublin where she grew up, but indeed she became the pride and joy of the entire country with people coming from the far stretches of the island just to welcome her back and bring gifts to her family home. While it may have been a male-dominated domain in the past, boxing in Ireland is being spearheaded by some fantastic women today.
Rachael Blackmore – Horse Racing
As far as breaking the mould in a male-dominated sport goes, you will do well to find someone who has done it more emphatically than Rachael Blackmore.
The Killenaule native caused shockwaves through the horse racing community when she became the first female jockey to win the Grand National in the 182-year history of the race. The victory came just over a decade after her first win as an amateur jockey when she won the Tipperary Ladies’ Handicap Hurdle in Thurles.
That wasn’t her only accomplishment in 2021. At the Cheltenham Festival, she became the first female jockey to partner a winner of the Champion Hurdle and, with six winners across the festival, she became the first female jockey to lead the festival.
Her outstanding year was met with plaudits both domestically and further afield as she won RTÉ Sports Person of the Year 2021 and the BBC World Sport Star of the Year. Perhaps most notable about her 2021 was the interview she gave in the aftermath of her Grand National victory where she disregarded her gender as a point of discussion.
“I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human. It’s unbelievable.”
Leona Maguire – Golf
If we are to speak more about ground-breaking years for Irish female athletes, then we need not look any further than Leona Maguire. The Cavan native turned pro in 2018 after a long and successful amateur career that saw her represent the famed Duke University in NCAA golf. She has not looked back since.
A short three years ago, in 2019, Maguire moved into the top 300 on the world ranking. As of writing, she now sits in 19th and has come off the back of hugely successful 2021.
In April 2021, Maguire achieved her, and any previous Irish female golfer’s, highest ever finish in an LPGA Tour when she finished joint second at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. Her performance at the tournament had her break the top 100 in world rankings for the first time.
She then represented Team Ireland in Tokyo in the summer and finished 23rd overall. This was swiftly followed up by a 13th place finish in British Open and, not long after, her maiden outing in the Solheim Cup. Maguire was the first-ever Irish golfer to be selected to the team, but that was not enough for her. Maguire subsequently broke the record for points by a rookie golfer in either the Solheim or Ryder Cup and helped Team Europe take home the prize against their American rivals.
She finished the year as runner-up in the LGPA Rookie of the Year, securing her place for the 2022 tour in doing so. And then, on February 5th, Maguire became the first Irish golfer ever to win an LPGA tournament. She won the LGPA Drive On Championship in Fort Myers, Florida, breaking the tournament record for the aggregate score.
Looking to the future
We have highlighted just four outstanding female athletes who are inspiring new generations of children with their performances both here in Ireland and internationally. The truth of the matter is we could have listed many more in what has been a superb year for Irish women's sport.
Record attendances at matches, unprecedented levels of participation and new TV deals for female sports are all combining for what is looking like an extremely encouraging trend for women’s sport here.
If 2021 was an indication of what’s to come, then 2022 will be one to watch. Happy International Women’s Day and remember, as the 20x20 campaign states, ‘If She Can’t See It, She Can’t Be It.’