GAA: Devastating effects of Emigration on Club and County

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Updated: January 20, 2011

Hardly a day goes by without news filtering through of ‘ a few more’ GAA players quitting Ireland’s shores for pastures new, mainly United States, Canada, Australia and of course Great Britain, in search of employment. Based on GAA international transfers statistics clubs are losing around 240/270 players a month with all counties badly hit though the three counties who lost most in the last period covered by such stats are Tipperary, Cork and Clare.

But then even the loss of a few key players will hit the smaller counties/clubs particularly badly.Who amongst us does not have personal knowledge of family or friends who have left the country in search of a job, if not a fortune, overseas?

Being so close, players moving to Great Britain will account for the vast majority of transfers (as much as 60 per cent) and I would not expect this to change in 2011albeit the work availability in London,Manchester,Birmingham and Glasgow is not brilliant yet with such as the 2012 Olympic Games on the horizon there still are jobs available in certain industries.Those who will feel the pinch even in Britain will include I.T workers, banking and clerical employees especially those working for “local government/civil service” .

As with employment figures, it is almost impossible to get accurate statistics from any source even the GAA since so many of today’s ‘emigrants’ do not even themselves believe that they are leaving the country for good, many are going away for “three or four months” or so they believe at the time so will not appear in such stats for some months yet .

Yet this “GAA ‘brain drain’ is not confined to 2010 or 2011. It has been on-going in large numbers since mid-2008 so if one takes into consideration the present alarming rate of leaving an Irish GAA club we are talking many many thousands of young people lost to rural clubs in Ireland, yes and city clubs too, though to a lesser degree. One must wonder how many of these will ever return?

How many will never ‘sign up’ for a local GAA club in a new environment? How many will remain in their new country, get married and have children, few of whom will ever play hurling or football, camogie,ladies gaelic or handball?

The most reliable statistics of course are those from the GAA as the players concerned need official transfers sanctioned if they are to move to another club abroad. A quick search of the official transfer archives make devastating reading, again particularly in rural areas of Ireland more so than cities.

SportsNewsIreland – and other media outlets – have reported on ‘losses’ from individual counties for well over a year now, indeed in some cases back to 2008. We gave county by county losses, as at that time and covered one county’s losses in some details, in the last quarter of 2010 .

True the ones that gain the most coverage are transfers of Inter County stars such as the recent loss of Clare hurling captain Brian O’Connell to Australia, seeking work as a carpenter. Limerick footballers, Conor Ranahan and Padraig Browne have said they will almost certainly be gone before this year’s Championships, almost impossible to find a county in Ireland, North or South, which has not lost at least one or two inter county player, but county teams will survive. Wexford have lost PJ Banville from their football squad, Louth expect three to emigrate in the months ahead.

The more devastating effects will be on club sides where it is as inevitable as that day follows night that there will require to be a major rethink of the parish and club structure with scores of smaller clubs, sometimes two or three amalgamating in 2011 or 2012. Without this many clubs will simply go under. There will simply be many more clubs with double-barrelled names.

The new trend before many months are out will be transfers to the Gulf States particularly places like Qatar, Oman, Dubai and particularly for those in the construction industry bearing in mind the many new stadiums, hotels, etc being constructed in advance of the 2022 World Cup. That will certainly open up new possibilities for GAA clubs in those regions especially if they do not already exist but will do nothing for the clubs back home who will then see even more departures for pastures new than now.

The “Sunday Business Post” in its recent issue:

“ In total, more than 960 applications were made last year by hurlers and footballers based in clubs here seeking to join clubs in Britain, the USA, Australia and other countries.

This figure is 300 up on the Numbers who applied for international club transfers in each of the two previous years, according to an analysis of GAA transfer data conducted by The Sunday Business Post.

The GAA has lost more than 2,290 active players since the start of 2008.This number only includes players who travelled from Ireland to overseas clubs and does not include transfers from one overseas GAA club to another.

In 2008 and 2009,more than 660 players applied each year to play with overseas GAA clubs.”

That astute sportswriter and author, Eamonn Sweeney had this to say in his “Sunday Independent” column just before Christmas :

A few weeks back I decided to get in touch with a few of the local GAA clubs here in West Cork to see how the recession was affecting them. The prevailing mood was one of anxiety. What came across most was a sense of foreboding, the fear that if things got any worse clubs would really begin to struggle, particularly when players now in college enter the job market.

The frightening thing about these interviews is that they took place before the cataclysmic events of the past few weeks, before the EU bailout, before the publication of the four-year plan, before the effective loss of our economic sovereignty to people who couldn’t care less if every single rural GAA club was forced into extinction. A few weeks back people’s main worry was about what might happen if the situation got worse.

It has got worse. Because the four-year plan, for one thing, blithely accepts high unemployment as a fact of economic life. It sets 9.75 per cent as a target rate for 2014. The target is too high, yet there is little hope of it being achieved as it depends on a rate of growth which is extremely unlikely. And, worse again, the government are depending on unemployment to be kept down by emigration. Emigration, it seems, is not to be seen as a blight on local communities but as a plank of government policy. Anyone who remembers the 1980s knows where there this will lead. The worst is yet to come”

Yes, the GAA and its club structure WILL be badly hit in 2011 and for a few years to come but remember too that this is not just an issue for the GAA. It will affect almost all Irish sports clubs and communities, some worse than others it is true but the overall affect will of course be felt in all aspects of family life, all aspects of social life of which Sports is but one important part.

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