Tony Kilkenny used his own club to make a wider point. “I guarantee you could go down to the heart of Kilkenny, Wexford or wherever… we didn’t just pop up, there are places like us,” he said.
Us’ is Kiltormer, All-Ireland senior club hurling champions in 1992. Kilkenny played on that team and was also on the Galway squad that won the All-Ireland double in 1987-’88.
When his playing days were over, he did more than his bit on the administration side, including a period as Kiltormer chairman. He’s a lifetime hurling man, well worth listening to.
Which is exactly what Frank Roche did as part of his superb piece in last Saturday’s Irish Independent on the problem facing rural clubs, arising from population shifts.
He concentrated on four east Galway clubs: Portumna, Killimor, Kiltormer and Meelick-Eyrecourt. They all told the same story of dwindling numbers at underage level.
Amalgamation can only be part of the solution because neighbouring clubs are losing numbers too. It’s not the GAA’s fault. Modern-day demographics are at work, concentrating ever-larger numbers in towns and cities at the expense of rural Ireland.
It’s an unforgivably stupid policy, but is so ingrained in official thinking that there seems no way back. In many instances, family members aren’t even allowed to build new houses on their parents’ land, instead forced into urban areas where prices are crazy.
It also widens the urban-rural population divide. Based, as it is, on the parish model, the GAA suffers more than other sports from what’s happening – hence the experiences of the four Galway clubs as outlined last Saturday.
As Kilkenny said, the same concerns apply in the majority of counties. So what’s the solution? In fact, is there one? There’s certainly no easy one. The search needs to be prioritised and intensified.
“There has to be a template put in place. Nearly something you can buy from the GAA,” said Kilkenny. It should be more a matter of the GAA offering a variety of options to clubs, depending on their circumstances.
Kilkenny wonders if the time has come for amalgamations of a few clubs in all grades. That runs against the underpinning tradition of every club, but times have changed. The problem is not down to mismanagement of clubs – on the contrary most of them are run very well – but to demographic circumstances which they cannot influence.
So what’s the GAA’s position on the changing landscape? An obvious reference point is their five-year Strategic Plan. Launched in April 2021, listed among its five key objectives is having ‘a sustainable Association with thriving clubs at its core.’ Sounds good. One of the core issues is identified as ‘adapting to population shifts’.
We’re getting somewhere now. There’s even a heading: ‘What we will do’. And the answers?
1. Develop our government and data analytics capabilities to implement the recommendations set out in the Demographic Toolkit Report (2020).
2. Roll out the Geographic Information System (GIS) across the Association to enable evidence-based development planning.
3. Partner with Planning and Training Committees at provincial and county levels to engage with Local Authorities and Statutory Bodies regarding shared facilities.
4. Develop and manage GAA facilities in a sustainable way.
5. Review the playing eligibility criteria for players to recognise connections to clubs, e.g, explore the feasibility of allowing players to play with the home clubs of their parents/guardians within a county.
What the hell does all that mean? Answers 1 and 2 look as if they came straight out of the ‘Yes Minister’ handbook of gobbledygook and the rest aren’t exactly examples of clear and decisive policies. Is that the best the strategy group could come up with? If so, then clubs have plenty to worry them.
A suggestion. Call a Special Congress, devoted purely to the difficulties facing rural clubs. It would highlight the extent of the problem in the starkest terms, after which a committee would be established and given a six-month timespan to come up with meaningful recommendations.
And don’t bother with the Demographic Toolkit Report (2020), whatever it is.
Jimmy Hyland’s omission an All-Star error
If a transfer system applied in Gaelic football, Con O’Callaghan would be at the premium end of the price market. Indeed, if he had been available for the latter stages of this year’s championship, there’s a strong possibility that Dublin would have won the All-Ireland title.
However, despite his exceptional talents, he should not have been included in the All-Star nominations. Disrupted by injury, he played only three competitive games, all in the hopelessly lopsided Leinster Championship where Dublin are miles ahead of the rest.
He played well in those three games but given that Kildare, Meath and Wexford finished seventh, 12th and 30th respectively on the league rankings and made no impact in the qualifiers or Tailteann Cup, it didn’t merit an All-Star nomination.
Kildare’s Jimmy Hyland, who scored 4-50 (4-19 from play) and who averaged 7.3 in the Irish Independent’s ratings in his 11 competitive games – nine against Division 1 opposition – was more worthy of inclusion.
Seven scores in an hour – how boring
Five scores were enough for Burren to beat RGU Downpatrick (2-3 to 0-2) in the Down SFC last weekend.
Conditions were terrible, which made it very difficult for attackers but it’s not as if Down players haven’t experienced heavy rain before. Whatever the circumstances, seven scores was a pathetically low return.
But then Down clubs have seen how successful defensive tactics have been for Kilcoo, current All-Ireland champions and beaten finalists in 2020, so it’s hardly surprising that copycats have come out to play.
Of course it all started at inter-county level where packing defences has been an essential part of the game for quite some time now. Given the quality of attackers, it’s more difficult to lock all the doors in the inter-county game.
Still, it sets the agenda on how the football is played and we now see massed defences at all levels. All fine, according to the rule-makers, who clearly don’t care about entertainment levels.
Shame on them.