Pat Spillane Q&A: "Templenoe must be the only club in Ireland which doesn’t have a national school”

These are exciting times for Pat Spillane’s native Templenoe and the surrounding Kenmare District. But the Kingdom legend fears for the future of rural GAA areas like this corner of Kerry.

Pat Spillane Q&A: "Templenoe must be the only club in Ireland which doesn’t have a national school”

Q: This a big weekend for your club, Templenoe?

A: “We’re in the county junior final for the first time in 40 years, and most of the lads are also involved in the Kerry SFC semi-final (with Kenmare District) this weekend, so there’s fair excitement around the place, we’re a long time out of the limelight.”

Q: Not bad for a small country club - a good sign for the future?

A: “Not really, unfortunately. We just have an exceptional bunch of players at the moment, but after they go, we’re back where we were. We have no numbers coming through for us from underage – playing13- a-side minor, we need to come together with other teams - Sneem, Derrynane - and ourselves.

“We have an exceptional bunch of players right now and we look very close to getting into Division One in Kerry, which would be amazing, considering we must be the only club in Munster, or Ireland, which doesn’t have a national school. None.

“We had five national schools to draw from in the sixties, but none now, which is a huge drawback.”

Q: So an exceptional bunch masks a deeper challenge?

A: “It does. Most of these fellas are in college, or just out of college, so they’re around now, or will be for another couple of years.

“The doomsday scenario is what happens after that – two of them got teaching jobs in the last year, but those are in Dublin, a handy spin of 240 miles up the road. Another lad is in the Garda College in Templemore. The jobs are the problem, plain and simple.

“Because there aren’t any jobs around here the players have to go away, and they can only do the commute home for so long. It’s that simple.

“We’re enjoying this golden era but we know that it’ll only last as long as we can hold onto those 18 or 20 players. Afterwards it’s back to where we were.”

Q: No handy housing estates being built that would yield a harvest of kids?

A: “Not at all - I’d say 80% of the houses being built around here are holiday homes or retirement homes.

With the best will in the world, the vast majority of those people aren’t going to integrate into the community at all, never mind providing players to fill underage teams.”

Q: You’ve been vocal on rural depopulation in recent years, is it getting worse or better?

A: “Whatever about the rest of the country, the Iveragh Peninsula is fairly decimated in terms of population generally. If you go from Killorglin to Kenmare by car you could count on one hand the number of cars you’ll meet coming against you, and that’s two-thirds of the Ring of Kerry, which should be a fairly busy route.

There’s a buzz in the big cities, there’s some kind of recovery going on there, but it’s trickling down very, very slowly to places like ours.

“The only upside is that for the first time ever in an Irish election, rural issues will be on the agenda. That’s a start at least.”

Q: Is there more the GAA can do or is that outside its brief?

A: “The GAA is the glue that’s holding these areas together, pure and simple. What the GAA is doing is unbelievable for rural Ireland, and it’s hard enough to keep the games going in these areas without sorting out employment and health and all those other issues.

“I think they’ve enough on their hands to keep the games going without spreading their wings any wider into areas where strictly speaking other organisations should be working.”

Q: Tough times ahead for Kerry generally, then, given depopulation versus the economic power of Dublin?

A: “Not necessarily. If you go by the logic of population and employment and so on Kildare, Wicklow and Meath should be next in mind, along with Cork. As a county Kilkenny is number 16 or so in Ireland in terms of population, yet look at their success in hurling. It’s all about utilising the resources you have.”

Q: Will Kerry stay to the forefront for the next few years?

A: “I think they will – even though in population terms they’re only around 13th – because they have the coaching structures in place, the development squads, all of that.”

Q: I’m agnostic about the development squads, are you a believer?

A: “I have my doubts about them – basically I think they’re too elitist, too exclusive. One thing about the squads in Kerry, though, that unlike in the past they have very good coaches over them.

“It’s not fathers following their kids or club stalwarts who are dedicated but might not be great technically, but good qualified coaches who are pursuing a common theme from the U14 squad through to minor, a Kerry style of play that’s being brought through. But I’d agree that there are issues with them as well.

“For instance, if you don’t break through with the development squad at 14, then your chances of making the county minors four years later are slim unless you’re with an exceptional college team, or maybe your club minor team is very strong. That’s a problem.

“In theory they’re a good idea, but in practice there are issues.”

Q: The notion of GAA coaching is much better now - how necessary was that?

A: “It’s better, and it had to be better, but more needs to be done still. I taught inside in Bantry for 33 years, and the first time I saw a GAA coach come into the school to do some work there was with a few months left in my 33rd year in the school.

“Fair dues to him, he took 100 kids out onto the field by the school - by himself - for the afternoon and did some great work with them, but that’s not enough.

“More resources have to be put into coaching, because for too long we had too much of a focus on capital projects, and in some places that’s still the case.”

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