independent

Thursday 21 June 2018

Finding club and county balance is the big challenge

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

Welcome, dear readers, to the new year, one I believe will be of the make or break variety in relation to the prosperity or otherwise of our clubs.

Without wishing to be overly dramatic, I'm of the firm opinion that the numerous changes on the inter-county scene could have a seriously negative impact on our national games at grassroots level.

On the other hand, I might be looking back this time next year on a new structure that was a resounding success across the boards, although I sincerely doubt it.

For an organisation regarded by many as being too conservative and very slow to change, it must be said that the number of alterations to the games programme are truly remarkable.

Is there a danger that the powers-that-be have taken on too much in the one go, and would it have been more prudent to implement things on a phased basis?

I guess only time will tell, but it's certainly going to be intriguing as we grapple with a round robin hurling championship, the Super 8 system in football, the Under-21 football grade replaced by Under-20, and the Minor championships altered to Under-17.

The first big test will arrive in April, not just in Wexford but all over the country. Will it be a month solely devoted to club activity as promised and, more to the point, what will the knock-on effect be from next September to November if the local championships don't get off to a decent start early in the year?

Clubs mean everything as far as I'm concerned, and I love that time of year when the county titles are being dished out on a weekly basis and the winners are daring to dream of provincial and even All-Ireland success.

Regular readers will be aware that I'm an avid collector of G.A.A. publications, and I have a special interest in getting my hands on club history books from all over Ireland.

That obsession brought me to numerous places near and far over my pre-Christmas holidays, from Kilbride just up the road in Carlow to a day trip that had Dungiven in Derry as its most northerly point, dropping into Keady, Co. Armagh, en route.

However, the journey that made the most lasting impression took me to the tiny village of Eyeries on the Beara peninsula in Co. Cork, an area of breathtaking natural beauty.

I was there to buy the history book of Garnish G.A.A. club, a tiny Junior outfit whose claim to fame is that they have the longest journey of any club in Ireland in order to get to Croke Park (416 kilometres).

On the same day I then travelled up to Tralee to purchase a similar publication on the mighty Austin Stacks, one of the best-known and most successful clubs in all of Ireland, let alone Kerry.

And on the trip home I was thinking of the huge difference between both clubs: one a very small outfit struggling for numbers on an annual basis and with a sparse roll of honour, and the other laden down with All-Ireland medal winners and with a yearly ambition of winning the county Senior championship at the very least.

The fact that both clubs - and hundreds more like them all over the country - can co-exist side by side is one of the finest hallmarks of the G.A.A., and it's no different in Wexford either.

Among our 49 units we have tiny Clonee whose efforts in fielding a hurling and football team yearly in the Junior 'B' grade are every bit as laudable in my view as the wonderful work carried out to ensure that St. Martin's will need a very sturdy table to accommodate all of the silverware from 2017 at their forthcoming reunion.

That's just one example, and the point I'm making is that there's a place for everyone in the G.A.A., from the clubs with big ambitions and growing populations to those very small outfits whose very survival hangs on a knife-edge depending on how many young people have to travel away to work in any given year.

While it's all very fine and dandy to fill Croke Park and elsewhere on the big inter-county days during the summer - with an increase in games of this nature to come this year - that simply cannot be implemented on a permanent basis if it means the pressure mounts even more on some of our struggling clubs.

Finding that balance will be the biggest challenge of all in 2018.

Wexford People