Team torn apart as 14 players emigrate
JOHN Curran has attended many going away parties in the last year but never dreamed he'd be holding one himself.
Yesterday, the 19-year-old emigrated to London to make enough money to head to Australia.
His departure from Valentia Island in Co Kerry, is a devastating blow to his family, but also a major blow to his local football team, the Young Islanders, as he is the 14th member of the senior team to go.
The problem has reached crisis point in rural Ireland and prompted a special meeting on Thursday night of the South Kerry GAA Board that has seen its player numbers depleted.
"It was like a wake at home this morning, but saying goodbye to your family is never nice," John told the Irish Independent before he boarded his flight at Kerry Airport yesterday.
Accompanying him was his friend Kevin Moran (18) from just across the water in Reenard, who's also hoping to make enough cash to go to Australia -- another player lost to his club.
John used to work in construction and already has a job lined up in London. He said he never wanted to leave but it beats "doing nothing at home".
"If things get going again here I'd definitely come back," he said.
The last time Valentia Island had a major success was in 2005 when they were South Kerry Football Champions. Twelve of that panel have since emigrated.
Club chairman John O'Sullivan said the club highlighted the problem over two years ago but nothing was done.
Since then Kerry County Board has commissioned a report on rural depopulation.
"We've lost so many of our senior players that last year we were only barely fielding 15," Mr O'Sullivan said.
Already at under-age and minor levels, the club has had to amalgamate with neighbouring clubs in Portmagee and Sneem/Derrynane who would once have been their rivals.
"It seems that every obstacle is put in the way of businesses that are trying to create employment," Mr O'Sullivan added.
He said a local restaurant was forced to close last year due to health and safety regulations and there was talk that others would follow.
The problems of Valentia are indicative of clubs all over the western seaboard and are not peculiar to Kerry.
Chairman of Dromid Pearse's Micheal O Siochain said he found comments by Finance Minister Michael Noonan that emigration was a lifestyle choice offensive.
His son is living in Australia like many of his teammates.
It's a scene that's all too familiar in rural Ireland and one that incoming GAA president Liam O'Neill wants to tackle.
"We're facing a player crisis that we've never faced before," Mr O'Neill said. "Nobody ever envisaged we'd be in a situation like we are where places like south Kerry are short of players and I'm not sure if the organisation understands the gravity of the situation."