Women in Sport Week: Niamh Gibney

Niamh Gibney

Women in Sport Week takes place between March 4th and 10th.

Each day this week has a specific theme and we’re delighted to be featuring some women in sport from across Co. Westmeath every day this week.

  • Monday 4th – High Performance
  • Tuesday 5th – Visibility
  • Wednesday 6th – Leadership and Governance
  • Thursday 7th – Coaching and Officiating
  • Friday 8th – International Women’s Day 2024
  • Saturday 9th – parkrun Women in Sport
  • Sunday 10th – Active Participation

Today we are featuring Niamh Gibney from Milltown Table Tennis Club.

Name:

Niamh Gibney.

Club or group:

Milltown Table Tennis, Rathconrath.

What is your sport or activity?

Table Tennis, Jogging, Yoga.

What is your first memory of sport?

Sports day in Gilson National School, Oldcastle. We went to the local GAA pitch near the school. There were lots of events, the egg and spoon race, sack race, the 3 legged race and a lap of the pitch, which I remember as being really tiring!!

What age did you first play sport with a club/group or team?

I played badminton and table tennis while I was in secondary school in Mount Sackville, Dublin. I also did a lot of cross country running at lunch times and after school in the Phoenix Park which was beside the school. I have great memories of travelling around Dublin on buses to different schools to play against them and also of the annual cross-country school run in the Phoenix Park.

Who was your sporting hero/idol growing up and why?

Sonia O’ Sullivan. She really was the main Irish athlete when I was growing up. Watching her carrying the Irish flag with her medal was just incredible. I also loved watching tennis and really admired Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

What do you enjoy most about being involved in sport / physical activity?

The friendships you make along the way and how good you feel after participating.
As a coach, I love watching kids enjoying playing table tennis, coming up with their own games and getting away from screens. The club supports teenagers to develop leadership skills through volunteering for the Gaisce award. There are sessions for adults from Muiriosa who consistently show up every week and are developing lots of skills. It is really rewarding to see the adults and kids improving and growing in confidence week on week. We also have a “bat and chat” session where you can find grandparents playing against their grandchildren, husbands against their wives or parents against their children. Table tennis is really a sport for all, a sport for life.

Who was the biggest influence on your sporting career?

My sister Treasa. She encouraged me to start playing Gaelic football in my 20s. I have some great memories playing with Moylagh Ladies in Meath and got to know lots of girls in the area. Can I remember how many games we won or lost? No. But I can remember the friendships and fun we had along the way.
Treasa played for the Meath Ladies GAA team which was a fantastic achievement considering she only started playing when she started in college. She continues to inspire me with her commitment to sport now, mainly running.

What is the hardest thing about being involved in sport as a female?

Unfortunately it continues to be around equality. Things are definitely improving but there is still a way to go. It is one of the reasons I like playing table tennis because boys can play against girls and the playing field can be pretty level. Table Tennis Ireland’s Women in Sports initiative has been really supportive towards our club and helping to keep girls and women playing.

What is the best thing about being involved in sport as a female?

Without a doubt the friendships and memories. Sport has brought me on such an incredible journey where I have met so many people from different backgrounds. Sport also provides me with a way of relaxing and unwinding from the juggling that is required as a working mother. It helps keep my identity as a person and has taught me so much about myself. Sport has helped me overcome challenges. As a female coach, it is also giving me a chance to help others develop friendships and positive sporting memories.

How do you think more women can be encouraged to participate and remain in sport and physical activity?

Sport and physical activity needs to be FUN and the main goal needs to be to keep girls playing for as long as possible or at least to give them good memories so that they can return to physical activity even if they do stop playing for a while. Initiatives like “Her Moves” are really positive where teenager girls are inspired by women in sport. There is a coach I follow on social media called Shane Smith. He said “The longer I coach, the more I realise that coaching isn’t about making children technically brilliant from a young age. It’s more about retaining them playing until a later age”. The more that girls enjoy playing, the longer they will stay playing.

One piece of advice for girls who have either fallen out of a sport/activity and would like to return or have never been involved in a sport/activity, but would like to try out something?

Find something you enjoy, and ideally someone you enjoy doing it with. Find a positive and supportive coach/ team. Give it a few weeks at least and remind yourself how brave and great you are for trying something new out!!

Who is the sports person you would love to meet?

I would love to have a conversation with Katie Taylor and discuss her values, her motivations, how she has remained so focused, what advice she would give to young girls, overcoming challenges and her future plans.