| 17.9°C Dublin

Exodus a one-way ticket for small clubs

New figures released showing that emigration could now be hitting close on 40,000 people a year are deeply shocking and grim confirmation of reports the Sunday Independent carried last week about the struggles of clubs to hold on to players in the teeth of the recession.

What is most alarming is the level of joblessness among those in their prime, the under 30s, who are the lifeblood, not just of sport, but rural communities across 32 counties.

Young people are finding it twice as hard as older people to get jobs, with nearly a third of those aged 20 to 24 now out of work. Airports are lonesome places these days as mothers and fathers bid farewell with the bitter realisation they have educated their children for export.

Today up to 100 people from the relatively small Woodlawn and Yonkers area of New York alone will be heading to Croke Park, many hoping to secure a last-minute ticket. No doubt many will have moved to the Big Apple in the last few years. We wish them all well in getting a ticket at face value.

Last week's story on emigration reported that in Dún Chaoin and Castlegregory the population fell by 71 per cent between the 2006 and the 2011 censuses -- a population decline of almost biblical proportions. That figure is incorrect. Things are bad but not that bad. Interestingly, Kerry County Board, who are generally ahead of the game in this regard, set up a depopulation sub-committee.

They found that 23 of the 76 Kerry clubs have an average of eight boys per class in their local primary schools. Not only that but eight of those 23 clubs have less than an average of five boys per class. The follow-on from that is that those 23 clubs may have to join forces in fielding underage teams in the future.

* * * * *

LET'S get one thing straight -- the GAA didn't actually say that failure to comply would result in instant shooting, it just seemed a natural addition to the statement, 'in the interest of efficient and effective crowd management, patrons will not be allowed to meet or congregate on Jones' Rd before or after the game.'

Is this what we've come to? The occasion has already been robbed of the wonderful spontaneity of the emotion-fuelled pitch invasion.

And the smoking ban has denied future editions of Reeling In The Years from being able to show a grown man pulling on a cigarette and crying at the same time -- an image as Irish as hurling itself.

God be with the days when you could drive up from the country, abandon your car anywhere in the general area of Croke Park, enjoy a few pints in the local of your choice and rock into the game five minutes before throw-in.

Afterwards, with the dye from your crepe paper hat staining your cheeks, you could head for home and a long night of celebration or sorrow-drowning without having to spend your drinking money on getting the car de-clamped.

So what's next? Is the car boot picnic to be banned on the basis of possible contamination from whatever it was you had in there last week?

Are headbands to become a thing of the past for fear they might slip down and cause a premature meeting between the wearer and his maker?

If you try to manufacture the occasion or 'control' the crowd, you risk destroying the very soul of All-Ireland day, the reason people want to be there in the first place.

* * * * *

Meath's All-Ireland winners of 1987 and '88 will be honoured at Croke Park this afternoon. And in Trim last Friday the players gathered for a lunch with friends, families and supporters.

It was a great occasion which attracted over 600, including players of the same era from Kerry, Cork, Down, Offaly and Dublin. All rivalries -- it seems -- mellow with time because there were some fiercely fought games between them at the time. This was a day for fun, though.

Hector, whose grandfather played with Meath, was MC, while music was provided by Seán óg Boylan and Brian Byrne from Navan, who is based in Los Angeles and wrote the music for the Oscar nominated film Albert Nobbs. Comedian Alan Shortt was also a big hit. Rumour has it that the entertainment is finishing in time for the team to get to Croke Park today.

Jerome Reilly and Fergus McDonnell

ssport@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport