'Exodus' of players hits home for clubs
The shocking spectre of emigration that's ripping the heart out of GAA clubs has been crystallised with statistics from two counties that show how the pace of departures has increased dramatically over the last 12 months.
As recession bit hard in 2010, clubs were forced to sign transfers at an alarming rate for players who had chosen to emigrate.
In Kildare, a roll call of players who had sought transfers out of the county revealed that some 58pc of those processed -- 74 out of a total of 128 -- were to overseas units from London, to Warwickshire, and Australia, to the US.
And in Clare, county secretary Pat Fitzgerald has devoted a large section of his annual report to convention later this week underlining how the problem is wreaking havoc on clubs in the county.
A survey conducted by the Clare County Board shows that over 200 players have emigrated in the last three years. In one day alone, 17 players from three clubs boarded flights at Shannon Airport for foreign destinations.
"Some rural clubs in the county, which are in a perennial struggle for survival, now fear woes of a more monumental nature -- their very existence and identity," writes Fitzgerald.
"What had been a trickle of young players heading abroad to find employment, has now turned into a steady exodus as the economic crunch continues to hold the country in a vice-like grip."
The findings of the survey showed that while emigration lifted by 3pc from 2008 to 2009, it increased by a further 15pc in 2010.
"It's not over-emphasising the point to state that this represents a catastrophe for a great percentage of clubs, because the loss of even a handful of established players can undermine a club -- particularly small rural clubs with small catchments," Fitzgerald says.
"Furthermore, there's no club that isn't and won't be affected -- particularly in the next six months when a lot more (players) are expected to leave."
Fitzgerald also notes in his report how the GPA estimate that some 15pc of inter-county players are currently unemployed, which is 2pc above the national average.
"Equally worrying is the admission that the GPA is coming under increasing pressure to deal with claims under its benevolent fund scheme. That is a very worrying development because if players with a profile can't find employment, what hope has an ordinary club player?" he writes.
Fitzgerald believes the association has to be even more proactive in tackling the problem and hopes more coaching initiatives will take place. "There have always been GAA units who have secured jobs for profile players and normally with employers with a strong leaning towards the GAA," he says.
"Last year, we appointed a committee to try and source employment opportunities for players who were seeking work. Thankfully, we had some success but obviously not to the extent we would have hoped for. That committee is still in existence and have redoubled their efforts, and currently we are formulating an action-plan on the basis of the feedback from the survey, but the reality is that the job opportunities just aren't out there.
"It behoves us all to do our best and maybe as an association we could be more proactive. There are several ways they can find revenue and several ways in which they could directly employ players -- one such way would be through an enlarged coaching programme.
"Players could be engaged in conducting coaching through the schools and while this would provide them with subsistence income, it would also help promote the games."
The issue of emigration is also affecting counties in the north, with Derry chairman John Keenan vocal on the issue at the county convention over the weekend. "Already, several club teams have lost players who, through no fault of their own, have had to go in search of work. We hope that a speedy turnaround in the economy prevails and that employment can be found at home to keep our boys and girls within these shores," said Keenan.
The effect of emigration has been felt heavily by Louth, who must plan for 2011 without three cornerstones of their team: midfielder Brian White, All Star nominee defender John O'Brien and centre-back Mick Fanning.