In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely looks at the big challenges facing GAA clubs.
The visible signs have been very evident over the past few years, the decline matched the state of the economy but yet no one in Croke Park had the vision to see the erosion that was taking place in so many GAA clubs all around Ireland.
The GAA has overcome many challenges since its foundation but it is currently facing one of its biggest challenges as many clubs fight for their very survival. The rural club was the foundation stone of the GAA and such clubs played a huge part in keeping the games alive at difficult times.
As an organisation it was fortunate to have many great people involved in its early days, men who showed great leadership and who in turn inspired others to take up leadership roles within the association.
Ireland is now in a very different place and so many of our people are struggling to survive. The economic state we find ourselves in is challenging the corner stone of our society and as a result many sporting organisations are just about hanging on.
The GAA is no different and places that once fielded many teams are now struggling to fill just one and in many cases they have been forced to join with their neighbours. Many would see this as the last straw but it’s either that or close down altogether.
It’s only in very recent weeks that the GAA has put together a committee in Croke Park to look at the many challenges facing clubs in rural areas. It is, of course, closing the door when the horse has bolted approach. Many clubs are in decline and some will not be able to withstand what is coming down the tracks.
When a club loses a player you can be sure others will quickly follow as the news comes back from those who have left about how good things are in the new horizons. Week after week I hear of quality young players leaving, they see no future and that to me is the saddest of all.
The future of our country are leaving and many may never return. That of course brings with it a huge personal trauma not only for their families but also for the local GAA club who would have invested so much time and effort over many years to bring them through to adult level.
The GAA at the highest, just like many of our political leaders, took things for granted and took their eye off the ball. They became consumed by concrete and forgot what was most important and now they are reactive but there is too much ground to make up now. During those celtic tiger days the GAA began to embrace the professional era and thus the contribution of the volunteer started to be eroded.
County Secretaries became full time officials and that, for the best part, has been a backward step for the GAA Christy Cooney, who would later become president of the GAA, was a chief architect in this regard and he used those employed to good effect when he went for President. I thought at one stage that Cooney had the ability to be a very good president but in reality he was the worst holder of that office and his three year reign proved to be very much a self serving role.
The GAA has not coped well in an era of paying full time officials. The role of the volunteer has been diminished by these people and so many have walked away because of the lack of respect the paid official has for the man on the ground.
Full time officials have only one agenda and that is control, they want to secure their positions and surround themselves with weak people they can control.
They will continue to do this and further weaken this great organisation unless they are challenged. Many of them are weak administrators and use their power in a self serving way. When I discussed this matter with a leading official in Croke Park recently he replied, “many of our Secretaries are an exercise in mediocrity”, that says it all when this was the view of a person inside the power base.
The biggest challenge facing the GAA currently is the erosion of the player base in rural clubs. This is proving to be a major difficulty for so many clubs and it’s only a matter of time before some parishes will have no GAA club. Some people will find this hard to believe but it’s coming faster than we know. As a community organisation it was the GAA that helped build parishes in every part of Ireland. That sense of pride was developed and the rivalry between local clubs secured the long term future for the games.
Divisional championships were played and they carried such importance, here in Limerick the West Championship and the East Championship meant so much and a winner’s medal was a major honour. That has long since gone; these divisions were once hurling strongholds but that’s sadly no longer the case.
I know of many clubs in Limerick that have great fears for the future. The same people are trying to keep the games alive. They have done so for many years but with few players the future looks very dim. In so many ways Croke Park has sold the influence of the club to corporate Ireland. Greed has seen them allow sponsors dictate the future of clubs.
There was a time when tickets were sold only through clubs but now Croke Park allows one particular supermarket sell tickets for major games. This is not right but Croke Park has sold out and by doing so weakened the role and influence of the local club. Congress is now a controlled exercise and the role of the club is very much weakened here.
The GAA was once driven from the bottom up but it’s now a case of from the top down. Ireland needs a strong GAA base at local now more than ever. Rural Ireland is in decline, post offices, Garda station have closed and it’s only a matter of time before parishes will be without a priest. Croke Park needs to assist clubs not put obstacles in their way and action is needed now.
Frost looks a good fit for the Munster job
Last Friday night Clare man Robert Frost took over as Chairman of the Munster Council and he was barely in the seat when he referred to the importance of the club and, in particular, the junior clubs who, he said, play such an important part in the Gaelic Athletic Association.
Frost has had a lifelong association with the GAA and his rise to high office comes after many dedicated years working at various levels. Limerick failed to support Robert Frost when he went for Vice Chairman three years ago.
It was a very poor decision given that Frost only needed one other county and it was only a matter of time before he got the nod.
Limerick would have secured the post of Vice Chairman now if they had backed the Clare man. Limerick County Board have a poor habit of backing the wrong horse when it comes to big positions.
Speaking this week to sideline view the Munster Council Chairman said, “I know the struggle small clubs are going through. Such clubs have made a huge contribution to the GAA and it’s so important that we do all in our power to help them. Bigger clubs in cities have a major advantage and the playing base for rural clubs is declining.
“Players are moving towards cities in a bid to get work and that will present difficulties for their home clubs”.
Robert Frost knows well the difficulties facing small clubs and I got the sense that he will make it a priority during his term as Chairman.
Limerick in the mix for football promotion
The Limerick footballers showed superb grit last Sunday when they pulled off a great result against Offaly away.
As I mentioned last week the team are short some players due to injuries but once again those on the field produced a telling result to win back to back games.
Ian Ryan and Ger Collins were back in action last Sunday but some of the new young players are making a major contribution and that can only be good come championship time.
Another win would put Limerick in with a cracking chance of promotion and that would be a superb outcome.