County plans to build on strong numbers on and off the pitch
As a test case for the value of Games Promotion Officers (GPOs) to the advancement of Gaelic Games in a given county, Wexford works perfectly.
Granted, it’s a small sample size.
But Wexford, in just three years, has experienced an almost 200pc increase in GAA participation among children aged from five to nine.
The cause of the surge isn’t hard to identify.
Since 2017, when Wexford were added to the ‘East Leinster Project’ – a scheme to implement a matching funding model for coaching – they have gone from having no full-time GPOs in the county to employing ten.
Plans are in place to bring that number to 12 by the end of 2021 and, according to a five-year strategic plan launched yesterday, 15 GPOs servicing Wexford’s 40 clubs by the year 2025.
“I think, as a county, once we get to 15 we’ll have been well served,” explained county board chairman Micheál Martin at the digital launch of the plan.
“It’s about serving the needs of the clubs and I don’t think, in this particular context, it’s not the numbers, it’s more what you’re delivering within the clubs.”
Martin’s own club, St John’s Volunteers, is an interesting case in point.
Located in Wexford Town, they have seen a near 300pc rise in numbers among the same juvenile demographic.
“It’s a club that was struggling massively and from an area of town where I was born,” he explained.
“There’s no young people living there anymore but there would be a lot of parents of non-Irish nationals and they’ve gone after those children, recruited them, so we’ve had massive successes in this area and Wexford County Council have helped.
“We have received funding centrally and we’ll be expectant of more central funding to support our programme.”
The question of where that funding comes from is the GAA’s thorniest issue just now.
Dublin continue to draw down the majority of Games and Development monies, a fact highlighted and debated at Congress last weekend.
Martin, a former teacher in Synge Street in Dublin’s south city, stresses that there are “areas of Dublin that still require further work to get participation rates up.
“So I don’t know if I’d be making the whole topic of games development solely about Dublin.
“Our plan in 2017 was,” he explains, “we went in, we had a strategy and we said we felt we should have been part of the East Leinster scheme from the start.
“So, effectively, we had a strategy and we’ve now delivered on it in terms of we’ve got a really, really good coaching and games team in Wexford.”
It’s not only in coaching and games where Wexford are making progress.
Perhaps the most impressive year-on-year financial performance from any county in 2020 was Wexford’s, who returned a profit of €507,228, up from €369,422 in 2019, despite the circumstances set by Covid-19.
Martin’s predecessor as chairman, Derek Kent, put it down to rigid adherence to the budgets they set out for themselves once it became clear that adjustment in the face of a pandemic was required.
Wexford actually increased its season ticket revenue from €87,340 to €91,724 last year, while commercial and fundraising revenue took only a marginal dip from €989,739 to €741,660.
All told, they are in a strong position to expand and improve, on and off the pitch, even if the very basic demands of Wexford’s membership are the same as in most counties.
“When you become chairman you get numerous calls, like: ‘What are you going to do about the toilets in St Patrick’s Park? Or something in Wexford Park?’,” Martin explained.
“The answer is that we have a plan.
“We’ll do it methodically and strategically, we’ll fundraise and when we have the money we will deliver it,” he added.
“We have a good base of fundraising. We need €5,000,000 and have half a million on deposit in Croke Park but we need to multiply that and that’s the whole idea.”