GAA Sideways: 250 GAA players a week leaving Ireland

Newry Times News Posted by
Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Seán Ó Sirideán looks at the new wave emigration grasping Ireland and how it affects the GAA club.

Living in the border district of Newry and south Armagh for many years, and being an expatriate I decided to write about the devastating effect emigration has on the local GAA club. Although, I only live in Belfast now, I might as well live in Dubai as I don’t get the opportunity to go down to Newry and Bessbrook as often as I would like to due to the usual work commitments that I now have and on top of a busy family life it makes for very little opportunity to visit home.

This is a familiar story throughout Ireland, with many people like me deciding to make the trip to cities within the island like Belfast, Derry, Dublin and Cork in order to fulfil their professional ambitions and to get all the opportunities that simply do not exist in Newry. Others decide that they simply want to travel and decide to jump on the next aeroplane to New York or Australia.

On top of the devastating effects emigration has on families it also has a profoundly devastating effect on local GAA clubs. The GAA exists because of the young players who turn out for their club’s minor, Under 21 and senior panels. Take them young men away and you are left with a skeleton of a club, a club that can end in serious decline both on and off the field of play.

Personally, when I settled in Belfast I became active in the association being elected as the PRO and cultural officer for Seán Mac Diramáda GAA Club on the Falls Road, this was for two reasons, one, I couldn’t stand being away from the hustle and bustle of club life and secondly I wanted to promote the Gaelic way of life in the socially and economically deprived areas within the lower Falls Road.

But, many do not resume their GAA life’s and simply move on. This leaves our association poorer on many fronts. We lose thousands of enthusiastic and perspective administrators, referees and supporters. The sad fact is that GAA clubs across Ireland are facing dwindling numbers of players due to a shocking new wave of emigration.

Some clubs have even taken the desperate step of flying in players from across Britain to play their league games, whilst others are being decimated as the recession bites. It is time for the GAA to become more active in lobbying the Irish government and the Assembly in Stormont to get invigorated community employment schemes up and running, which helped to keep a lot of talented players at home during the recession years of the 1980’s.

The Irish Independent recently carried out a survey which suggested that the GAA is losing 250 players a week to emigration. That’s one thousand players, administrators and coaches a month that leaves our association in search of better living conditions. This is a fairly shocking fact. It is difficult to get a grasp on just how many people are leaving when the numbers are so large.

A detailed look at how this has affected local GAA clubs hasn’t been done but I know that my own club of Carrickcruppen were hit quite bad last season and subsequently relegated due to many of their young stars opting for America and Australia.

Take a look at County Clare’s predicament. Clare GAA was rocked by the loss of its senior hurling captain, Brian O’Connell, who has decided to emigrate to Australia in search of work. O’Connell, who is a carpenter, played with the Wolfe Tones club in Shannon and was regarded as one of the county’s best hurlers.

The GAA need to try and get a grasp of this situation. The onus is upon Croke Park to work with the members of the association locally to overturn this, we often look to government for the answers, but this is something that we should be looking for solutions for ourselves. If we lose this generation, it is going to have serious implications for the economy in the years to come. And it is also going to have serious implications socially. We can shape our own future and I just hope that we can stem the flow of Gaels leaving our clubs sooner rather than later.

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