The closure of pitches has only emphasised the difficulties already faced by clubs in South Kerry, according to divisional PRO Brian O’Sullivan.
On top of rural depopulation and the majority of players living outside the region, the St Michael’s/Foilmore man regards the decision to keep premises closed until July 20 as another hurdle for clubs.
“It’s not just the fact that they’re closed; it’s that there is nobody in them anyway,” said O’Sullivan, who is also chairman of South Kerry’s Bord na nÓg. “We’re lucky enough in that every club has one field. You might have seen a pitch being topped back in April and start thinking there would be games but if it’s next year before there are any it would be a right sickener.
“You might have an U12 match in Ballinskelligs or Dromid of a Tuesday or Wednesday evening and there could be close of 100 people at it. We didn’t understand that at the time but people passing would stop in to have a look. Then you think about Sneem and Templenoe joining up and the guts of 30km between them and one team in that. It was hard enough getting together in what you might now call peace time.”
Considering how hard South Kerry clubs fought for pitches, the closure is keenly felt. O’Sullivan also highlights there was no minor player involved in last year’s divisional final and he is worried what a sustained lockdown of GAA pitches will do to the region.
“It is (frightening) in a way. South Kerry would have 10 clubs but it’s eight now with St Michael’s and Foilmore having joined and Sneem and Derrynane having joined. Until the late 70s/early 80s, there were only three or four main pitches. Con Keating Park in Cahirciveen was the main pitch, Waterville Sports Field and maybe Valentia and Sneem. But Dromid, Foilmore, Renard were late and Derrynane didn’t get a pitch until 1992. Dromid didn’t open a pitch until 1991. It took a fierce effort to get a field. Cahirciveen didn’t have a field until 1950.”
Speaking in a personal capacity, Beara chairman Jim Hanley has been impressed with the GAA’s leadership during the crisis but questioned the extension of pitch closures until July 20.
“I do think the issue of the grounds is that July 20 is a long way off. Our clubs could be used to help people get their exercise. I actually think it’s more of an issue in the city than in rural areas. I appreciate there is a fear about a puckaround or a kickaround turning into a five-a-side game between young people who are absolutely aching for a bit of social contact.
“The GAA is a fantastic community organisation and could provide a bit of supervision in that regard. If it was something controlled and you could cordon off the pitch in three or four sections club members could enjoy the field for half an hour. I cannot see what could be wrong with that.
“If you look at Tramore Valley Park in Cork city at the moment, that has been ongoing throughout the current crisis and I haven’t heard anybody complain about it. I have gone up there with my family and kicked a ball for 10 or 15 minutes and there has been no issue. I feel July 20, more than two months, is a long way off.”
That the number of new cases is consistently low in the likes of Kerry doesn’t offer too much hope that games can resume earlier than expected, says O’Sullivan.
“It’s a bit like East Berlin and West Berlin. If the western seaboard becomes more relaxed it will be like a different country to the eastern one.
“A third of the teams are living in more eastern parts of the country for a start and then of the remainder if you got a fifth or sixth of them living locally you’ll be doing well.”