Emigration epidemic puts clubs on life support
Just a week before the All-Ireland football final, a new wave of emigration is devastating the GAA with clubs in Roscommon losing 105 players in the last year alone.
And the exodus is nationwide. Clubs are preparing for county finals and semi-finals around the country with up to two-thirds of their strongest teams of just two years ago now living overseas.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office show that 40,200 Irish citizens emigrated during the 12 months up to April 2011, nearly 13,000 more than in the same period in 2010. Most of those leaving are aged between 15 and 44 years.
The annual emigration figure represents half the expected attendance at Croke Park for next Sunday's All-Ireland football final between Donegal and Mayo.
Ironically, it is clear that sky-high demand for tickets for the most eagerly anticipated final in years is being partly driven by exiles who want to return home for the match.
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And evidence gathered from around the country shows that while the GAA can expect a big financial boost from the final, as well as the All-Ireland hurling final replay at the end of the month, many clubs, especially in rural areas, are finding it difficult to field teams.
In Cork, even city clubs are now being hit by the loss of players.
"We are losing the cream of GAA talent in the 21- to 25-year age group," stated Thomas Gould, a councillor and member of the St Vincent's club in Cork city. "These are the guys who would have provided the backbone of a club for the next 10 years."
Last weekend Finuge, the club of Kerry star Paul Galvin, overcame Ardfert in the Kerry intermediate football semi-final. The bruising encounter, in which Galvin was sent off, was a repeat of the 2006 semi-final but in the intervening years Ardfert have lost three-quarters of their starting line-up.
Other sports clubs in rural areas have been hit by emigration. The 43-season-old Roscommon and District soccer league started the new season with five fewer teams than last year.
Another sign of the rapid rise in GAA players leaving Ireland was a recent fundraising drive by the Desmonds GAA club in Castleisland, which was launching a renewed membership scheme to help ease financial difficulties. The club received a cheque for €1,300 from Sydney from 13 members of the club now based in Australia.
Young Islanders from Valentia in Co Kerry lost their 14th player from the island's senior team last January.
Kerry has been one of the worst affected areas for emigration. In the Dún Chaoin and Castlegregory areas, the population fell by 71 per cent between the 2006 and the 2011 censuses.
Smaller county teams are also being badly hit. Famously, from the Leitrim championship squad of 2010 only 10 were still involved this year.
Former Louth manager and Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick started his last campaign in charge with a training session last January. By mid-June he had lost 11 players to emigration.
Earlier this year, it emerged that the rural Clare club Clooney/Quin, which had three teams at senior, intermediate and junior level, was forced to scrap the intermediate team as seven of its former senior team were playing junior hurling in Australia.
Sunday Indo Sport