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America tops transfer list in drain of GAA talent

THE GAA has approved 642 international transfers already this year as the wave of departures from clubs all over the country shows little sign of abating.

A total of 238 young hurlers and footballers have moved to Australia since Christmas, while a whopping 302 players have joined the North American County Board where they will hook up with clubs in cities such as Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

The UK is also proving a popular destination with young Irish men as 80 transfers to English clubs were approved in this month alone. Figures for New York, once the most popular destination for the Irish, are not yet available.

With Australia and North America now at the top of GAA players' travel maps, it's little wonder that the association has become a social network in those places for the weekly exodus of people from these shores.

This month alone 33 players moved to the Australasian board while 77 switched there in March, 74 in February and 54 in January.

And some clubs are considering formulating proposals for 13-a-side championships while juvenile sections are seeking to combine and amalgamate with neighbouring parishes. Western coastal counties continue to struggle to hold onto their youth but the exodus is not confined to those areas as players from all over the island are departing.

However, there is a small bit of good news in the figures as a survey of the transfer traffic to date this year shows a small number of players are actually returning to Ireland while the ratio of national transfers and moves to urban clubs has also increased, meaning that players are at least staying in the country before considering moving abroad

"I have definitely noticed a lot of movement with internal transfers and there is also a big reduction with international transfers so far this year," says Leitrim County Board secretary Diarmuid Sweeney.

"Lads are coming back to Ireland in dribs and drabs too, there's no doubt about that. We've actually got a few players back onto the Leitrim senior panel, fellows who were gone away. Ronan Gallagher and Barry Prior are back now.

"I think that for general club players who move away, some of those have either completed their tour or year out or have found that there is also a lack of work abroad because 18 months ago it looked like there was no end to the exodus.

"I think some lads seemed to be going because everyone else was leaving."

Sweeney processed a huge amount of international transfers last year, so much so that the board felt it need to act. They worked with recruitment agency Collins McNicholas who helped their players with contacts, updating and improving their CVs, job-specific training and also assisted them in interview processes. It led to some of their players getting jobs, albeit outside the county. "We actively did something and some of the lads have got jobs," Sweeney says. "It's still a very hard time for the GAA and in rural areas as well, but I'm not convinced that amalgamation is the long-term solution so you have to try everything to keep a player.

"You can't win every time but as I've said a few more are coming back and the outward traffic has decreased. That's a positive anyway."

Irish Independent