Duffy certain emigration will force rural clubs to amalgamate
AMALGAMATION of clubs in parts of the country may become necessary as the GAA feels the impact of emigration caused by the recession.
However, while some rural clubs are being stripped of players, a different problem continues to exist in large urban areas, where the GAA's rate of penetration is not what it should be.
"There's no doubt that the recession is going to drive some clubs into amalgamation. Whether it's temporary or permanent is another matter," said GAA director general Paraic Duffy.
"We've had that before where clubs amalgamated in bad times but went their own way again when playing numbers went back up."
The GAA has always done its best to support its members in lean times but there's now huge concern that with rural Ireland losing several garda stations, post offices and schools, the Association will suffer.
"In a sporting sense, the GAA is the heart of rural Ireland so anything that affects rural Ireland affects us," Duffy said. "This recession is so deep and so wide that the GAA can't help in the way it used to. The loss of players in rural clubs is a particular worry."
Cities and large towns present a different challenge, one which Duffy admits the GAA are finding difficult to meet. The Strategic Review Report of 2002 envisaged the establishment of several new clubs in big population centres, but few have emerged.
Instead, existing clubs continue to get bigger, often finding it impossible to cater properly for the large population base in their area.
"There's a lot involved in setting up a new club and it's not something we find easy to do," said Duffy.
"Also, existing clubs very often don't want to see a new club around them, even when they have more than enough members themselves. Getting the balance right isn't easy."
While the recession is hitting hard at all levels, Duffy is pleased with the manner in which the GAA maintained high attendance figures this year. Gate receipts will be down because of the reduction in ticket prices, plus the various other package deals put together for the championship, but gates help up very well.
"We expected a difficult year but we're delighted with the way things turned out," he said. "Galway beating Kilkenny in the Leinster hurling final and Donegal's run through the football championship were a huge help.
"Galway's win energised the hurling championship and then we had the added bonus of a replayed final which prolonged the season.
"Donegal drew huge crowds to all their games and Mayo's advance was also a big help.
"The big thing was to keep crowds up and we achieved that fairly well. We marketed the games extensively and we'll be stepping up further on that front next year.
"As for ticket prices, we certainly won't be putting them up for next year.
"The Budget will take more money out of the economy so people will have less to spend. We're very aware of that."