Is every club created equally in the eyes of Croke Park?

In his annual report for 2018, John Costello, chief executive officer of the Dublin GAA county board, laid out the problems with land that confront every sporting body in Dublin.

Is every club created equally in the eyes of Croke Park?

In his annual report for 2018, John Costello, chief executive officer of the Dublin GAA county board, laid out the problems with land that confront every sporting body in Dublin.

He wrote: “Everybody is acutely aware of the housing crisis in the country and particularly in the Dublin area. There is huge pressure to build more houses, and quickly.

This puts even more pressure on land in the county.

The result is that sports clubs in Dublin find it increasingly difficult to acquire land and develop facilities as there is already little or no land availability and when there is, the cost is often exorbitant.”

There can be no argument with that.

And he followed with a clear exposition of the need for much better and more integrated planning in all aspects of the recreational life of the city — and of the country in general.

He noted: “Even beyond Dublin, many schools are built nowadays with no provision for sporting activity — with no fields or land adjoining.

"In my opinion, it is vitally important that suitable amenities are provided alongside any new housing projects and school builds as a matter of course.”

He continued with a heartfelt plea for more recreational spaces in the city: “Dublin cannot be allowed to become a city of concrete with no outlet for our youth to play sport and engage in healthy activities.

"I have previously mentioned the huge pressure that GAA clubs here face in terms of accommodating their growing membership and it is not a problem that is going to go away.

Proper planning and provision is vital if Dublin is not to become a place to just work and sleep.

In the middle of this discourse — to underline the unique problems which he said faced GAA clubs in Dublin — Costello alluded to the Metro North project which would have taken so much playing land away from the Na Fianna club.

He said: “We had a well-publicised scenario this year that could have resulted in a flagship club being literally sunk by a major Government-funded capital project.

"Thankfully that matter has been resolved and Na Fianna can continue their excellent work in catering for their community in Glasnevin.”

Again, nobody could doubt the effectiveness of manner in which the GAA rallied to the flag of Na Fianna and fought to ensure that the club did not suffer in the suspected manner from the development of Metro North.

John Horan
John Horan

The most high-profile member of Na Fianna GAA club is the current President of the GAA, John Horan.

Last week John Horan became the first GAA president to address Seanad Éireann. In the course of his address, he demonstrated that he, too, fully understood just how vital land is to what the GAA is proclaimed to be about.

He said: “Pitches are the key because grey never goes back to green. Green space and sports facilities are the lungs that communities use to breathe.

"Without them we can see how areas can feel closed, claustrophobic, choked and starved of the oxygen that sport of any sort can provide.

"We urgently need politicians and planners to promise, protect and provide green space to let people breathe and let communities play.”

All you could do when you hear that is cheer. What John Horan says is exactly right and it chimes gloriously with what John Costello says in his annual report.

But here’s a question for the two Johns — does your commitment extend to all clubs equally?

The question needs to be asked because there seems to be a difference between the manner in which the GAA rallied around Na Fianna, when they were in danger of losing their grounds, and the manner in which they have approached Kevins Hurling and Camogie Club, at least thus far.

The thing is, when the term ‘flagship’ club is being bandied about, you would have thought that Kevins would be precisely the ones who would be up at the top of the list.

The area Kevins draws many of its underage players from is inside the Grand Canal.

Anybody who knows this area of south inner city Dublin will know the challenge that this involves.

This is an area where there is currently not even one playing field, where 10 primary schools filled with 2,500 children have not a blade of grass on their properties.

But, of course, this is the south inner-city rather than a country town or a city suburb so the outcry is unheard.

To be clear, this is an area in which many outstanding people live and work and grow up. But there is generational neglect of inner-city communities and drugs-fuelled crime and destitution have destroyed too many families.

This is the world into which the men and women who run Kevins bring the GAA.

There are many children who have had their lives transformed by playing for Kevins, by getting to play hurling and football on weekend mornings and through the week.

They are a club that lives the GAA’s mission and the GAA should be doing everything in its power — at county board and central level — to assist them.

That cannot be said to be happening.

But Kevins Hurling and Camogie Club is a club with no grounds of its own. The club is currently the tenant of the Templeogue-Synge Street Club Grounds on the Crumlin Road, but this is a problematic relationship.

Templeogue-Synge Street are redeveloping their grounds and what remains unclear is what access Kevins will have once the redevelopment is complete.

It appeared in the last few years that the club was finally going to get the use of a pitch inside the canal.

Dublin City Council voted (by amendment to the draft plan for the area) to zone a part of the old St Teresa’s Gardens site for sporting facilities big enough for a GAA pitch (and to be shared with soccer, rugby and other sports as a sort of sporting hub). There was jubilation.

But, of course, it is never that simple — not in the inner-city. There is a housing crisis — as we all know — and forces within the council (and in government) were determined that the area now promised to the hurling field should be used instead for housing.

And in the end what emerged was fudge.

The full-size hurling pitch has not been provided. A date of 2022 has been set down for its delivery, but it is very difficult to be confident about that.

After all, Dublin City Councillors have just voted to rezone land elsewhere in Dublin 8 at Marrowbone Lane from primarily Z9 (Sport & Recreation), where it was planned to build a full-sized municipal sports field for GAA, hurling, camogie, rugby, and soccer, to Z14 so that Dublin City Council management can instead build a super depot, 100 houses, and a seven-a-side soccer pitch.

Where has Dublin GAA been when all this was happening? Where is the outcry? Where are the petitions and the statements and the coordinated media campaign?

In essence, what exactly is being done now for Kevins?

We know that the Association is capable of moving mountains to make things happen when it really wants to.

Every year the GAA says that 400 GAA clubs are supported by Croke Park in work undertaken to build clubhouses, improve pitches, erect floodlights, and construct all-weather facilities for members and their communities.

More than that, in the next two years the GAA says it will double to €4m the amount invested centrally in this work.

The words that John Costello wrote and the words that John Horan spoke were exactly right — now Kevins offers them an exceptionally challenging opportunity to make them real.

More than anything else — more than any five-in-a-row or a hurling All-Ireland — that is the type of legacy that would make a lasting impact on the lives of so many; something that would be truly historic.

The time to act is now.

Paul Rouse is Associate Professor of History at University College Dublin.

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