Saturday 25 March 2017

Ask not what your local club can do for you, but rather what

Desperate economic times don't need to spell the end for GAA clubs, writes Páidí ó Sé

THE financial catastrophe that has engulfed the economy has not spared GAA clubs up and down the country. From all parts, I hear stories of long-established and famous clubs which are in dire straits because of heavy debt and the collapse of asset values.

If ever there was a time for the Irish to fall back on their own resources, willpower and enterprise, then this is it.

If clubs, big and small, are to survive, they will have to show a lot of imagination and ingenuity and there is no way we want to return to the Ireland of the 1950s.

I believe in rural Ireland, but the heavy hand of bureaucracy means planning regulations are too restrictive and if there is not an easing of the rules in the present predicament, the danger is that we will create a rural wasteland with fine, five-star pitches but few players to make use of them. In a way, it is the dire prospect of a return to the empty dance halls in Ireland experienced by a previous generation.

There was a notable man at the time, Dan Paddy Andy, of Lyreacrompane, often written about by John B Keane, who found ways to hold dances during Lent and advertised "strange music" in order to attract the punters.

It is vital that football clubs identify one big fundraiser in the year and build a couple of 'specials' around it.

In the mellow days of summer, there must be more of a family and carnival atmosphere around the clubs, with midweek matches and side attractions designed to cater for men, women and children to enjoy a night out at their local club. For example, I would suggest tournament matches between farmers and 'townies', which would have considerable novelty value and would stir up a bit of partisanship in every county in Ireland.

Clubs must explore ways of encouraging more family membership at about €25 per family.

It is tough enough, at present, and in some cases we might be going back to where we were 50 years ago in rural Ireland in terms of relying on ourselves. But we must think locally, trade locally, shop locally, and the GAA club can be the fulcrum for a wide range of beneficial activity.

In every community, including my own, there are numerous people of proven ability, who I know would be very eager to put their talents at the service of their local GAA club if only they were asked. Sometimes, such people might regard themselves as 'blow-ins' in their community and might not put themselves forward unless they were asked. But their energies and abilities could be vital if clubs, some household names, some not, are to survive the crisis.

Another essential area is public relations. Every club needs an active and vital PR resource; they want to generate excitement and interest through radio, newspapers, magazines, the internet -- wherever it's happening.

Interest creates more interest and the PR facility in every club should be imaginatively deployed to sell the excitement of the matches and to develop local knowledge of the personalities involved.

We should also look to our connections with Britain, where there is a thriving GAA community, and to places like Brittany, which has similar values to my own West Kerry.

There is a lot of capital tied up in football and hurling grounds around the country, and we must make use of that asset every day of every week, if possible, especially in the summer.

There is no use waiting around for someone else to pick up the pieces. This is the time for people to dig deep inside themselves and discover what they are able to contribute.

Our GAA heritage could be presented as part of our cultural tourism drive and would have

considerable appeal to ex-patriates in America and Britain.

There is no time to be lost, ideas are needed, good and bad, and let somebody else sort out the wheat from the chaff, but please come forward with your suggestions, and your abilities, and your desire to help.

It will be well worth it. You get back what you give, and there are few more satisfying feelings than that of being able to be of service to your own community, and to keep a spark alight that is in danger of dying out. Don't wait to be asked! Your GAA club needs you!

Finally, our thoughts are with Peadar Heffron and his family. Peadar, the PSNI Constable injured in a cynical bomb blast ten days ago, is captain of the PSNI's Gaelic football team.

Sunday Independent

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