GAA Football

GAA president John Horan 'concerned' by impact of rural-urban shift on clubs

GAA president John Horan, pictured with Limavady Wolfhounds chairman Ronan Curley last week after officially opening the club's new gym facilities, admits the rural-urban shift is a concern for country clubs across Ireland.
Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

AS rural depopulation continues to ravage clubs across Ulster and Ireland, GAA president John Horan admits he is “concerned” – but feels the solution to the problem is largely out of the association’s control.

Years of social and economic shifts have led to increased movement towards urban areas for employment, among other factors. That has left many rural GAA clubs in crisis, with several fighting for their very existence while others have had to join forces in a bid for survival.

Speaking in Limavady last week, Horan claimed that the reasons behind the rural-urban shift were often issues the GAA “can’t be held responsible for”.

There have been other areas, though, where the GAA have had the opportunity to help find solutions.

For example, earlier this year a motion came to Congress from Kerry club Valentia Young Islanders, who are close to extinction due to a dearth of players.

They had proposed that 16-year-olds should be allowed to play adult football or hurling in non-championship and only at junior grade where the club fields one team. That plea for help was eventually ignored.

While acknowledging the GAA “don’t want clubs disappearing”, Horan says they can’t control economic trends.

“In a real sense, we can't be held responsible for the lack of broadband in localities in rural areas that's bringing people out of those areas,” said the Dublin native.

“Not alone are you getting the shift in Ireland nationally towards the east, but you are getting it in counties themselves.

“We have an urban-rural committee in place there and they have actually seen from some of the work they have done; take Westmeath as a county. An awful lot of the population shift in Westmeath is along the motorway from Athlone across the Kinnegad.

“If you look at Laois, Laois put a strategic plan together and surprisingly, all the population density is towards the east of Laois and not the west. You have Portlaoise, Portarlington, Mountmellick and all these to the east of the county.

“So it seems to be happening in counties, as well as nationally. All we can do is… It's not that… we don't want clubs disappearing. Amalgamations are a last resort as it is your club identity is what's important to you.

“I’m coming in here and fellas are jibing me about being a Na Fianna man. That's it, you are what you are and if you amalgamate clubs unfortunately you will break down some of those local rivalries.”

It has been suggested that there are too many clubs in rural areas to sustain long-term - with Horan admitting “a little contraction” could be required.

“That's the thing - such is our penetration that it may call for a little contraction in some areas. It is not what you would wish but needs must and the economics of the country dictate it. We can't control those areas.”

Continuing, he added: “We do allow independent teams, we help clubs get over a period of difficulty.

“Underage Go-Games allow you to field independent teams to try and keep it going. You might not have the numbers at underage but you could have enough coming through.

“It's probably a saviour to some rural clubs that players come home to them to play and bring a bit of life into the place at the weekend.

“We are concerned; I suppose we are a bit like the Post Office in a wee community. You don't want to see them disappear or be forced into amalgamations but look, it is an economic trend more than anything else and we can't control those factors.”

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