“We’re very conscious of the changes in the Irish population in the last ten to 15 years,” deputy chief executive of the Munster Council Enda McGuane admitted.
“Particularly the large towns that have expanded across the province — not just the likes of Limerick, Cork and Waterford, but areas like Ennis, which have had huge expansion.
“We are looking at the club structure — whether the existing clubs can cope with the numbers or whether new clubs have to be created. The challenge with the economic downturn is that there are a lot of people in these estates who don’t have green areas or community facilities, so sporting bodies have to fill that gap.”
McGuane stressed community development was as much a consideration as growing participation in hurling and football.
“We’ve considered what he have to offer, and it’s not just getting people to play gaelic games, but developing a sense of community. That’s usually focused on the parish, but places like Na Piarsaigh in Limerick have shown that can be replicated in urban areas. What we see in our urban clubs is that the GAA club almost becomes a community area, with bingo, old folk’s parties, karate clubs, all using them.
“For instance, Ballygunner in Waterford are planning a creche, so clubs are expanding to meet the needs in urban areas. Obviously within the GAA intercounty competition gets huge attention, but that’s just the top of the pyramid, so we felt we could bring the model we’ve developed to urban areas. We want to bring a sense of community and enjoyment to the fore — it’s not just about having kids play GAA solely, it’s about the community.”
McGuane warned that different urban areas require specialised plans — that one size doesn’t fit all.
“Arising out of the urban development plan our aim was to increase the number of active players and volunteers — keeping that broad because there are so many different challenges in urban areas, and each area is different. In Limerick we’re involved in the Limerick Regeneration project, for instance, but that’d be different to an urban project elsewhere. Each county has an urban committee, and an urban plan, but in the long term we’re looking at upskilling our volunteers, for example. In a traditional GAA parish there are structures in place you can work with, but that may not exist in a new urban area which has no sense of community. That’s what we’re trying to equip people to do.”
McGuane specified the projects which the Munster Council has focused on: “We’ve invested financially in urban projects such as Na Piarsaigh in Cork, Ballygunner in Waterford, Dr Crokes in Killarney and St Patrick’s in Limerick.
“In tandem with that we’re involved in planning, designating areas for promotions and games development activities. That’s not a case of establishing clubs so much as getting people involved, and we ran pilot projects in Waterford, Limerick and Cork, which challenged people not familiar with the GAA to get involved.
“In fairness, those projects, such as the ‘Games on the Green’ projects, worked well, getting kids to play, but the Camán Abú and Péil Abú were also successful.
“We found that people who’d played GAA but felt they weren’t fit enough even to play junior got involved, as did non-nationals who wouldn’t have the background in the skills. In Waterford there were over 60 adults playing in a league in De La Salle, which was great. Hopefully, then, those people would get more involved with the GAA then later.”
McGuane added that Na Piarsaigh, first-time Limerick senior hurling champions, were a success story which the Munster Council wouldn’t claim credit for, and pointed out the differences in urban areas even within Limerick.
“We have two coaches involved in Moyross, also in Limerick, but GAA clubs in that area died away, so that’s different to the area Na Piarsaigh are in.
“What we’ve learned from our projects is that providing activities for kids is vital, but so is getting adults involved, as they have a huge influence over what the kids do.
“It shouldn’t be forgotten either that while there’s a huge focus on hurling and football within the GAA, there’s a lot of interest in handball in these areas.
“The objective of getting involved in urban areas is as much about filling social needs, and giving people opportunities to exercise as well.
“Obviously childhood obesity is a huge challenge and there are other issues facing the Limerick regeneration project, but sport is huge in terms of what it can do for people — it can give people a chance to express things that they can’t express in other ways.”