The week before last, the Irish Examiner reported on a rural GAA seminar staged by Club Tyrone in Garvaghey. Last Saturday week was a day for kindred spirits fighting against what is increasingly feeling like a storm tide.
Slaughtneil’s Seamus McEldowney spoke of Derry GAA’s strength being in the countryside yet more money is being pumped into urban areas with little return.
Organiser Mark Conway described Club Tyrone’s intention to make Garvaghey a “Tyrone Gaelic Bauhaus” while Leinster senior football champions Mullinalaghta’s Finbarr Meehan spoke of every child being treasured “as a jewel” because they can’t afford to lose anyone.
Kerry chairman Tim Murphy noted that the ‘parish rule’ may need a 21st-century reassessment in light of rural depopulation.
“The parish rule is sacrosanct,” he said in his address, according to the recorded minutes of the day. “It was designed to stop big clubs poaching good players from small clubs.”
However, he added: “Maybe the parish rule should be changed to facilitate a flow into small clubs from elsewhere.”
As clubs are being forced to amalgamate at underage level, and the effect of that is still to be felt at senior level, the parish rule has been a hot topic in Kerry in recent times.
Town clubs argue that the price of houses in their parishes have made it difficult for them also but nobody feels as hamstrung as rural clubs.
A relaxation of the rule would at least give them a fighting chance in the years ahead.
Murphy’s countyman Dara Ó Cinnéide has been a fervent defender of the parish rule.
“The identity of the parish is becoming less relevant in parts of Ireland and that’s sad to see,” he said in 2011.
That sense of identity is vital to sustaining the GAA but there has to be some flexibility for those who need it most.
Instead of relying on how the Catholic Church carved up counties devised by the Anglo-Saxons isn’t it time the GAA did something about their geographical demarcation lines?
Obviously, the parish rule must remain the central plank but to facilitate a changing Ireland there must be leeway.
And, as GAA president John Horan suggested to the Seanad in January: “The GAA are helping with rural decline. We are not causing it. We are not the ones that are closing post offices. We are not the ones that are not delivering the internet to local rural areas. But it is our members in those areas that are finding it necessary to leave their local communities, move to the east coast or go to foreign shores. They are the problems that need to be solved. We will be there. We will provide the facilities and we will provide the network but we ultimately cannot be held responsible for rural decline.”
Another offshoot of this changing Ireland is the increasing demands being placed on club officials.
Murphy said: “We’re all struggling to recruit volunteers from that 30s/40s age group, the people who work long hours, have heavy commutes and big mortgages and who are wary of Garda vetting, potential liabilities, etc. We can’t and won’t stop social and economic change — the work/life model is now different — so we must adapt to it.”
There is a realism attached to how the most vulnerable rural clubs regard their predicament.
Valentia Young Islanders appreciate they aren’t going to attract players with football alone but initiatives like allowing young men return to the club of the father would largely be a positive move.
As McEldowney pointed out in his speech, Slaughtneil is not a parish although faith is a catalyst for the club.
Mullinalaghta is half a parish, the only part being in Gowna, Cavan and amalgamates with Abbeylara at under-age.
Both clubs may be exceptions in terms of the success they have experienced but they are proof that the parish rule isn’t necessarily a mast to be tied to.
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Reviewing last Sunday week’s Division 1 football final, one wonders if the real contest was not the game itself but the post-match press conference.
The competition to play down the result was fiercer than any action on the field. James Horan, while saying the win “was big” given its historical significance, spoke about how Mayo could have won by as much as 12 points.
His devil-may-care attitude continued when he made light of the approach Mayo took to the game: “We had one training session on Wednesday, we met up yesterday (Saturday).”
Before he arrived into the auditorium, Kerry manager Peter Keane admitted defeat to Mayo so soon after losing to them in Tralee was disappointing but a League final defeat didn’t upset him.
“I’m going down the road relatively happy,” he said.
Horan’s words will be tucked away by Kerry to be replayed should the counties face one another later in the year but the comment didn’t really come across as a slight against the opposition, more a warning to them and others that they can do better.
It was also clear that Keane’s remarks were also more aimed at the summer.
Both men were in bonus territory last weekend — as Horan seemed to suggest, Mayo didn’t budget for a League final — so neither would have been getting carried away had the result been reversed.
However, the press conference confirmed Horan is as bold a media operator as he was in his first term in charge: Never afraid to play up his team.
His early-season determination to maintain low expectations can no longer be maintained: Mayo are contenders again and his words should say as much.
Jim Gavin’s remarks after the Cavan-Dublin game last month that Gaelic football is “one rule away from becoming Australian Rules” should be strongly heeded.
The offensive/defensive mark doesn’t sit well with the five-time All-Ireland winning manager but then it has left many feeling indifferent.
Speaking to Laois boss John Sugrue before the Division 3 final, he tended to agree with Gavin, pointing out the increased stoppages it would lead to.
“I think it’s difficult if you have a forward who just catches a ball and you’ve no chance to defend against him. As a back, it’s about where you position yourself and it’s maybe more forward-orientated although it does encourage a good quality kick-pass.
There may be a compromise in restricting the mark to inside the 20-metre line, which would at least give defenders more of a chance to either catch or spoil the kick in — there is no real skill in catching an uncontested, sometimes lateral kick from 20m.
It’s vital the mark and the sin bin clock, which simply must be stopped so as to avoid time-wasting and negative play, are refined if they are to come in permanently.
But would the mark be such a lost opportunity?
Gavin is on the money.