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Sat 30-Jun-2001 0:22
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Back of the Nally
Square Dáil (No. 2): Mildred Fox TD
She sinks into a puffy armchair and fills the air with a sigh of relief…
Mildred Fox has just seen baby Caoilfhoinn off to sleep and is savouring a warm cup of tea. It’s just two weeks ago that the Independent TD for Wicklow was rushed to Holles Street Hospital following the celebrations of her 30th birthday. Being a mother seems to come naturally to Mildred and having a close bond with younger brother Chris has obviously nurtured this. However, when Mildred first encountered the sport of Gaelic Football, for which she is very passionate, the Kilmacanogue Cub was anything but mothered.
'I remember the first time I was at a GAA match, I was six weeks old! My mother played Camogie, and my father football, so it was either one or the other or both every Sunday with my younger brother, to every GAA pitch in Wicklow. We initially found adults quite boring to watch, so we usually got our own game going on the sideline of the pitch. On one occasion in Emmet Park in Bray, we were so busy playing our own game that we didn't notice the real game ending. My father who was playing in the football match, thought we were gone to a camogie match with my mother in the south of the county, so we were left behind. My poor mother arrived back frantic to Bray and found the two of us looking out through the bars of the gates of Emmet Park like convicts. I'll have to keep an eye on Caoilfhoinn when she takes in her first few games!' She adds,'Luckily enough the game has grown on us since then, and we survived a GAA childhood without too many scars!'
Fox has been involved with her local club, Kilmacanogue for a number of years. Still involved with the ladies football side, Fox has seen good times and the bad times at the North Wicklow venue. In recent years, one event that still sticks in her mind would be the burning of the club's pitch and the breaking of the crossbars at both ends by vandals, but she prefers to remain positive about developments at the club. One source of pride for her is watching the progress of younger brother Chris, in the junior side. 'I know this answer will make you want to vomit, but my favourite player of all time, by far, is my own brother Chris Fox who plays for the Junior A team. He has brilliant ability and gives everything to any game that he is playing in, regardless of whether they are one point up, or ten goals down. He is a natural footballer, with a positive influence on the rest of the team, especially the younger players.'
She continues, 'Second on my list would be Kevin O' Brien, who has the ability to play on any team in the country. He has always given Wicklow 100% and maybe we just came to depend on him too much. He was the first Wicklow player to receive an All Star award, and really is in a league of his own.' She says with a smile, 'Still only second to Chris, sorry Kevin!'
How valuable a fit and full flowing Kevin O' Brien would be to the Wicklow attack when they meet Galway in Aughrim this weekend. However Fox is confident of an upset. 'It is a great chance for us to show the country what we can achieve. Realistically, this year's Championship hopes are to build a solid platform for the future. Patience is indeed a virtue.' A sentence used all too often in the Garden County.
Close calls in 1981 against Dublin - present manager Moses Coffey lined out in midfield that day - and in 1990 against Meath, would suggest that Wicklow produce the goods every ten years or so. To continue this pattern, a shock win over Galway might be on the cards.
'Fortress Aughrim' is the ideal setting for a one-off match such as this and the players have certainly got their reward for intensive training done throughout the winter months. I asked the Deputy her thoughts on fitness in the modern game. 'In my opinion, the fitness levels have led to a far different spectacle, or style of game, with a lot of emphasis on running and hand passes. There is less skill required in relation to kicking, catching, etc. like there used to be. Years ago you could always pick out a player with a natural footballing ability, now it is more difficult to be an outstanding player. I would like to see a change in the game to encourage some of the traditional skills such as catching and kicking, to make the game more interesting to watch.'
With regard to rule changes and format overhauls, Fox has plenty of ideas. 'In relation to the Championships, and what I would change, it is easy to point out the flaws. Finding the solutions not so easy. As I have said before, the fitness required at Championship level is unbelievable, and to train so hard to be knocked out after one or two matches is discouraging for players and fans alike. However to change the ‘knock out’ system would take away from the challenge of a Championship, so it is difficult to find a middle ground.' She seems quite happy with the present system, considering her home county is still playing and it is nearly July. 'I really don't see an alternative at present.'
As the evening stretches on, Fox describes her views on some important issues with the GAA. In describing the GAA as something widely discussed between rural TDS, she believes that a number of her compatriots would like to see Croke Park used for other sporting occasions. 'My stance on Croke Park is that personally I'd like to see other sports allowed in principle, only after GAA games are accommodated in full.' Following on, she maintains that 'Croke Park is not exactly underused, but it is difficult to see how concerts are allowed to take place there, while other sports are not. Surely, the main purpose is for sporting activities, rather then rock concerts?' She concurs that Rule 21 also has no place in the GAA, 'as I reckon that sport has a natural way of bringing people together, and shouldn't be exclusive'.
Carrying on the political dynasty in her family has been tough but enlightening for Mildred. She has also acted as fairy God Mother to many organisations and businesses throughout the county. If she could use her magic wand on the Wicklow teams, who would she transfer in from other counties? 'I would love to transfer in DJ Carey and Trevor Giles if I had a magic wand. DJ is a skillful player with a good attitude. He seems to naturally influence others around him into enjoying the game, and giving it their best. Again, Trevor Giles is a similar ambassador for the game. He has an ability to bring others into play; he creates spaces and opportunities for others as well as having a natural talent himself.'
Besides a glorious win for Wicklow this weekend, the Dail deputy hopes for a good Championship for 'the Dubs and perhaps my neighbouring county Wexford to do well in the hurling also.' She will settle for one of the above, she says.
The sun drops over the contours of the surrounding hills, and Mildred is looking forward to a break and a 'bit of rejuggling' in the coming weeks. She even points out that a return to competitive Ladies Football might be on the cards. 'It looks as if it might be a nice summer for us here. I will be attending quite a few matches locally. So you never know I might even tog out myself before the summer is out!'
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