Club concerns differ but finance affects all
The full scale of the challenges facing GAA clubs across the country have been laid bare for the first time in a new report which shows that finances and shifts in population are of greatest concern.
The report, produced by a committee set up earlier this year by GAA president John Horan, is the product of the most comprehensive survey of clubs in the Association's history.
Just over half the country's clubs, 853, responded to a detailed series of questions about their well-being. This, says Mick Rock, the chairperson of the GAA's National Club Committee, was an "unprecedented" response. Three-quarters of affiliated clubs in Connacht took part, as did almost 60 per cent in Dublin.
Asked to rank their greatest challenges, finance unsurprisingly emerged as the number one concern for clubs. "One would expect to see finance up there at the top," Rock told the Sunday Independent, "because everybody is concerned about finance as it's always a struggle in any club."
However, the committee found that when it looked deeper into the figures, some more surprising - and alarming - trends emerged. "Demographics featured very high," said Rock. "The two sides of it."
In Dublin, for instance, the number one issue identified by clubs was access to adequate facilities.
This alone highlights the great divide between Dublin and large parts of the country. The explosion of the population in the capital is in stark contrast to elsewhere, so that while one third of clubs in Dublin are struggling to provide facilities to cater for their growing membership, one third of clubs in Connacht and Munster are struggling to field teams because of falling numbers. Clubs in Cavan, Clare, Kerry, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Offaly and Roscommon emerged as being among the worst-hit.
In general, a clear pattern has emerged of small clubs struggling for viability because of the difficulty in holding on to players and recruiting volunteers to help share the burden of running a modern club. Clubs stressed the time required, the workload and the responsibility of working with children as major issues when it comes to attracting new volunteers. The age profile of current administrators was also raised.
In terms of club fixtures, a hot topic of debate in the GAA at the moment, Rock said that in compiling the report the committee "could feel the frustration oozing out of clubs in their replies to the survey and their written comments along with them".
He added that "above all else, clubs want to play games".
Faced with a choice of playing league games with or without their county players, clubs overwhelmingly went in favour of continuing without them to guarantee regular games.
"We have to take cognisance of that, that we are holding up an awful lot of players for the sake of a very small percentage," said Rock. "Naturally, in terms of having more opportunities in the summer to play championship, that would be something that clubs would want. Space in summer was always scarce, but it seems that space for them now in summer seems to be completely gone.
"Clubs would like, and deserve, to see windows of opportunity produced throughout the summer to have their championships going and not to have to start in April and then drop it and continue it in September or whenever."
Indeed, two-thirds of clubs said that keeping the month of April free of county activity had not been of benefit to them. A particular annoyance proved to be the influence of county managers in preventing players lining out for their clubs, and some suggested that the GAA should introduce sanctions in an effort to stop this practice. Other clubs dismissed the idea of keeping April free, and instead called for two or three weekends to be set aside during the summer for club championship games.
The survey findings will be revealed in full at a special club forum - the first of its kind - to be held in Croke Park on Saturday next. Representatives from in the region of 300 clubs are expected to attend. The forum marks the beginning of the National Club Committee's next stage in addressing the issues affecting clubs.
Sunday Indo Sport