Wednesday 18 September 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Rural clubs need fresh vision to tackle falling playing numbers'

Aishling Moloney, right, and Aislinn Desmond celebrate after Munster won the football interprovincials at WIT. Photo: Sportsfile
Aishling Moloney, right, and Aislinn Desmond celebrate after Munster won the football interprovincials at WIT. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

How has your club progressed in the last ten years? Can you remember? Has it regressed? Where would you like it to be in another ten years? Most, of course, would answer in terms of championships won, increased membership and improved facilities. Few though have any strategic plan of how they expect to carry out this journey.

The Chinese always said that the longest journey starts with the shortest step and most clubs are now quite capable of planning for these short steps from their own resources. The greatest resource of all is talented people who should be used, maybe a better word is utilised, to the full. Most clubs now have access to planners and engineers and accountants and builders, not to mention the jack of all trades. And there is still a need for someone to mow the grass, collect the money, clean out the dressing rooms and park the cars on the days of big matches.

The big capital investments will need to be made by almost all urban clubs in extra playing fields. A couple of good grass pitches and a full-size artificial pitch would do most clubs, but this costs a lot of money - especially in towns and cities. I don't like artificial pitches for adult football as there are too many injuries but they are invaluable for young players who can go out with dry boots in winter and come back in the same way. It makes football more enjoyable for the stars of the future.

The biggest waste of the great crash of a decade ago is that the land which Nama took over was not given to sporting organisations, despite it being a specific remit of the agency. Instead the best resources of the State were sold to foreign hedge funds. The same happened to vast numbers of apartments.

It makes me want to vomit when Nama try to take credit for providing the State with a profit on their investments. Anyone with the most basic cop would have to make money from selling on the best of assets after buying them for the price they wanted. No credit is due for that, yet while sporting clubs held the State together in very difficult times, they got nothing in return.

In the 1930s the land commission played a leading role in providing good land for GAA pitches. In many cases it gave a huge boost to the GAA in rural areas. Nama had the opportunity to do the same for the GAA in urban centres yet lacked the foresight to do any social good. And the politicians let them get away with it.

If all the apartments in Dublin had been sold off cheaply to young people, would we not be better off? If the land could have been sold cheaply to GAA clubs, would the return to the social fabric of the country not have been greater?

The Nama officials got bigger egos from doing business in London or New York. The only one who could not apply to go the party was Paddy. You reap what you sow from people who boast of the bottom line while doing no good.

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At this time the GAA were very poor at central level in renegotiating on behalf of every club in debt. All the monies owed could have been settled for a big discount with a new loan from a foreign bank. What was needed was vision and nerve. Probably more nerve.

The GAA will survive without this useless lot of bureaucrats whose favourite phrase was, "we always acted in the public interest". They need to go to night classes about the price of everything and the value of nothing. Yet things could have been so much better. Anyway, the clubs will battle on if they have a vision of where they want to be.

For me, the club of the future is one where football, hurling, camogie and ladies' football are all part of the one organisation - all using the same facilities that man, woman and child played a part in providing. In a situation then where there is no distinction between men's and women's games the GAA would become an even greater social movement than it is at present - one completely immersed in the local community.

Now this does not mean that the GAA pitch on a Sunday afternoon would resemble an Irish form of Mardi Gras with all the family sitting around, smoking weed and listening to Black Sabbath. A much more healthy environment would be created by games for all ages and regular games for all club teams is the single biggest challenge. Of course this depends on a higher authority to organise these matches.

At senior level, every club in the country should be provided with a schedule of games from February to October. Until such time as the central authorities devise a system where club football is not a hostage to the county game, then it is like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill. The CPA are right. Proper fixture organisation can only begin with a blank canvas. Otherwise it is like Paddy doing you know what into the wind and I don't mean kicking out the ball, even if that sometimes comes back on you too.

It is blindingly obvious that county boards cannot produce a workable document on club fixtures until the county calendar has definite games built into it for nearly all of the season. If that was the case then the county board could fill in the blanks. Now what we have at board level is a possibility of a fixture going ahead if the county team wins this match but loses this one and so on. Throw in hurling then to banjax the whole job. Fixtures are set on shifting sands.

Unfortunately, many clubs may cease to exist by 2030. Some may have to lie down with the sworn enemy from the other side of the parish and break bread or just amalgamate with another outside club. This is the product of progress as measured in some counties where there is almost no building in rural areas. There are no families with four or five boys anymore either. Four or five families could make up a team 40 years ago. That day is gone. Now there is the Protestant family of a boy and girl. It takes a lot of them to make up a team. The only advantage is that both will probably play for their local side. The club of the future may be different, but might be even healthier.

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