Sunday 18 August 2019

Many clubs now under spotlight for the wrong reason

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball column

Wexford GAA like so many other counties is beginning to dust itself down from inter-county activity, but the plight of the club is now more pronounced than ever.

To start off this week's column I came across a poem by James Lyons from my collection of books called 'The Rural Club', and it sums up what the rural club means to the parish and the player.

'It was an ordinary country place

Where eyes were focused on the hurling club

As pivot point, the veritable hub

Around which all activities kept pace.


For forty years - but it was no disgrace -

Teams played and lost, and tried and lost again

Until one day, a stripling among men,

A youth grew up a champion of his race.


He proved his genius on the field of play

In local championship and tournament,

And won a medal on All-Ireland Day.


His deeds were named at crossroad and in town,

His homeland spoken of where'er he went -

A country place, but it had won renown.'

There is a parallel between then and what is happening now. Clubs, particularly rural ones, are struggling, with the alarm bells set ringing by the weekend's activities and the number of walkovers in championship games, while one club's second team withdrew from the championship race in mid-stream.

They had started out as a crop of hopefuls but sadly no longer exist, with numerous players in these clubs now no longer catered for in their grade of football.

The Forth and Bargy was always an example of an area with a remarkable spirit of determination, loyalty and parish pride. The encomium is well deserved, but the decline in participation and standards is now coming home to roost.

For many years the local Catholic Curate and the National School teacher occupied the minds of the young people in promoting the games. Mind you this is no longer, as parishes now struggle to have their full complement of curates, while primary schools also suffered from a lack of male teachers, although it must be said the female contribution to Gaelic games has not gone un-noticed.

New Wexford hurling coach, Willie Cleary, was instrumental in bringing Hurling 365 to Crossabeg-Ballymurn parish where one already sees its impact on the young boys and girls. This is now moving through other primary schools with hopefully the same results over a period of years.

Every area has its growing pains but what I witnessed on Tuesday night in Innovate Wexford Park just demonstrated the problems facing rural clubs, either through a lack of under-age structures, coaching or the disappearance of the voluntary workers.

This was the Wexford District Under-21 hurling Roinn 1 final involving Forth and Bargy Gaels and Blackwater. So what many may ask?

Well, to get straight to the point, Forth and Bargy Gaels was a combination side of three parishes: Rosslare, Our Lady's Island and Ballymore (St. Fintan's). Not surprisingly Blackwater, a small parish, had little chance.

They played the game in good spirit but coming up against a three-parish combination surely is not in the best interests of the G.A.A. A parish like Blackwater deserves better. This anomaly only comes to light once teams take the pitch, but a three-parish combination should be allowed only Premier Division participation.

Forth and Bargy Gaels have little to be proud of. This is a combination of parishes with five primary schools and seven churches, with three of those primary schools in Rosslare parish alone. Blackwater has just one church and one primary school.

Given a parish the size of Rosslare, it must be regretfully stated that it has suffered from the lack of an under-age foundation despite its population. It surely has more inhabitants than a small parish like Blackwater for a start.

Brave Blackwater will survive. They will go onwards with their heads held high, but one fears for the parishes involved in the Forth and Bargy combination.

Wexford People

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