Monday 11 December 2017

Four urban areas still in urgent need of increased help

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

Ireland's transformation from a largely rural society to an urban one is arguably the greatest challenge facing the G.A.A.

But in Wexford it is creating an extreme problem, as while many rural clubs are struggling with numbers, the failure of the urban towns to capitalise on their population increase is one of major concern to the Association in the county.

It shows that the movement of people from rural to urban areas is weakening the G.A.A. in two profound ways.

Firstly the G.A.A. clubs are struggling more and more to field teams, with many having no option but to amalgamate with other clubs in order to give players some game time.

You might have thought the more people moving to urban areas would strengthen the G.A.A. presence there, but this is proving not to be the case.

Existing clubs in urban areas are simply incapable of serving everyone in their catchment area, and so instead of being at the heart of communities, they are drifting to the periphery.

In an ideal world you'd simply establish more G.A.A. clubs to cater for growing populations of urban areas, but that simply does not work.

Take Wexford town as an example. St. John's (Volunteers) embarked on a hurling venture, that simply failed, without creating a ripple.

Clonard, even with their assistance on the hurling fields, continue to struggle abysmally at both under-age and adult, despite drawing from a parish population of more than 12,000.

Faythe Harriers won the All-Ireland Féile Under-14 hurling last year, but are still experiencing difficulty to bridge that under-age gap.

Meanwhile, their Seniors look set for another relegation dogfight, having only avoided relegation last year in the play-off, while the towns' football teams are also experiencing difficulty in creating a niche of their own.

From Wexford town to Enniscorthy, where Rapparees also look set for a relegation battle in both Senior codes, while under-age is struggling more than ever, with Shamrocks also striving to become serious contenders in adult and under-age. Only yesterday (Monday), Rapparees withdrew their Under-21 hurling team.

Naomh Eanna, to their credit, are making serious progress both in Senior and under-age in Gorey. New Ross, while bridging the gap somewhat in Intermediate 'A', won the District Under-21 hurling last week, but the under-age basis is weak.

But the most startling findings are the failures of Wexford and Enniscorthy town clubs to make a worthwhile contribution to inter-county under-age and adult teams.

This is a startling statistic which calls for rapid surgery, and it can no longer be ignored. There was a time when Wexford Minor sides were backboned by urban players, but those days are long gone.

Wexford G.A.A. are in ongoing discussions with Croke Park regarding possible funding support towards urban-focused Games Promotion Officers in the four main towns.

The county's hurling plan outlines the significant challenge in increasing urban under-age participation as currently only 21% of those in the five to 18-year-old cohert in urban areas participate in our games.

Initial engagement with Croke Park has been positive according to reports, but right now it is only a hope that some funding might be forthcoming, both centrally and from the Leinster Council to support this urban focus over a three-year period.

In Wexford catering for the urban population is the biggest problem.

Therefore, unless this new initiative, should it materialise, reaches more than a fraction of the people living in their catchment areas, it will be doomed to failure.

In this new initiative football should also be considered to run side by side with any programme.

So the health of the G.A.A. is very much dependant on the success of this initiative but, if the interest of the Association drops further in urban areas, then we are in serious trouble.

No surplus in a financial report at year's end will mask over what is becoming a serious G.A.A. problem, since all financial resources available should be ploughed into making the urban areas, in particular, hotbeds of G.A.A. activity.

Wexford People

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