A couple of weeks ago the Kerry senior championship game between Kenmare and Dingle had to be called off. Nothing new about that; games are called of at a minute’s notice by those who have influence with the fixtures committee in all counties.
However this game was not cancelled because of a wedding, a stag party or indeed a county team going away on a weekend junket. The game didn’t go ahead because Kenmare could not field a team. According to their club’s sources they were missing seven first choice players because of exams and emigration.
Kenmare is a big club with a long tradition and you can be sure that they as a club, before they contacted the Kerry County Board to call off the game, did not reach their decision without considering the consequences. They would have also known that calling off a game is one thing but cancelling a championship match is quite another knowing that the disciplinary committee would be under huge pressure to throw the book at them.
There were suggestions that they would have no bother fielding 15 players but they wanted to field their best team in order to give themselves a chance of winning. It is also believed that they had flagged this problem well in advance but the fixtures committee just went ahead and fixed the game anyway.
There is an argument that Kenmare, regardless of what 15 they would have liked to put out, should have fulfilled the fixture regardless. Maybe they decided as a club to take a stand; maybe they, like every other club in the country, are fed up with having to work around what county managers believe is the best schedule for them and their needs.
The Leaving Cert exams started last week. The majority of teams in rural Ireland are unable to field teams without having three or four minors within their squads. Is it fair to ask them to play football while they sit for exams that are so important for their futures?
The emigration factor has always been there; players have always left for the summer or indeed for good but over the last few years this has escalated because of the reluctance of county boards and Croke Park to deal with the huge issue of club fixtures. It is as simple as this: players can leave the country in June; stay in America or wherever they can get a job, return home near the end of August or the beginning of September and while they might miss three or four league games the chances are they will not miss a championship game.
Let’s look at it from their end; three months away from Ireland working make a few pounds for going back to college or staying around home bored to tears; missing three or four league games or going to play for a club in New York or Boston and gaining that experience of American life. Yes, I bet you would go too.
A number of years ago the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, suggested that young people left because they wanted to travel; it was part and parcel of the modern society we now find ourselves in. He wanted to deflect the attention away from the fact that there are so many young people unemployed and that rural areas are the hardest hit. Maybe he was right but maybe they leave because of necessity rather than the urge to travel.
In time, preferably sooner rather than later, the GAA at all levels need to consider how we can help those clubs who are struggling at the moment. The GAA is supposedly built on the belief that is sold time and time again to those who will listen that it’s all about the wee club; it’s all about the community spirit and the amateur code. However can we really say that an organisation that turns over 50 million euro annually is really based on those values. Small rural clubs are struggling big time, losing their young players who may never return is a huge blow for any club or community; the same level of money is no longer available but the costs of running the club are still a huge burden. The concentration of most of the resources going towards county teams is becoming the trend. If we’re not careful we will become more like the Premiership teams in England where it will be only the most powerful and wealthiest that reach the top of the pile.
You will often hear about sports becoming less attractive; the same people or teams keep winning all the time just because they are better resourced than the rest. Gaelic games are steadily going in that direction whether we like it or not. Too often we have paid lip service to club fixtures and the plight of the club player; too often we have heard that some group or another might be set up to look into fixtures but once the All-Ireland series begins nothing else matters.
It would be fair to say that we could or will be talking about this very same problem next year but there might be more clubs in the same situation as Kenmare found themselves in. It would be easy to knock them for their actions but what’s to say it might be the problem of a Donegal club in the not so distant future.
Well Done Glen
On a more positive and lighter moment the men from Glen have always done some things out of the ordinary in the past but their good deed in the bogs of Galway will take some beating. When they’re handing out prizes at the end of the year I hope they are not forgotten.