Rural depopulation may lead to championships of 9, 11, or 13-a-side in some parts of Cork, while transfer regulations in the Rebel County may also have to be changed.
Those were two of the points made at the launch of the Cork GAA Strategic Plan 2018-2020 earlier this week.
Richard Murphy, chair of the plan steering committee, acknowledged the challenges facing rural clubs.
“As we speak I’m not aware of any clubs in danger of extinction, but if a rural club is dealing with a situation where the national school has gone in numbers from 60 or 70 down to 20, then obviously down the road amalgamation may have to take place.
“Take the eastern corridor from the city down to Mitchelstown. The clubs along that corridor will develop hugely, and that’s a big concern for us. I’m from Duhallow and I know clubs in the western part of Duhallow are under pressure.
“With people working from home and so on we may get development, however, and people may stop moving to the cities. But we’re very conscious of that and it’s addressed in the document. We’ve spoken to divisions about championships and leagues where teams can play 9, 11 or 13-a-side. That’d make clubs viable in the short term but we can’t tell what the long term will be.”
Senior administrator Diarmuid O’Donovan added: “There are a number of clubs who are challenged in terms of membership, and there are possibilities that one or two clubs may have to amalgamate or restructure. That’s inevitable. There are half a dozen clubs which are struggling — if you look at our Junior C competition there were 10 clubs involved.
Six of those wouldn’t have much membership outside what’s on the field, and one of them had just one player in his 20s. The rest were older.
“Now those may be the clubs that keep going because they’re really doing it for the love of the parish and of the GAA. In terms of transfers, that’s always a hot topic in Cork. We have more stringent transfer rules than most, those were brought in to protect membership in their own time.
“It works both ways. There was an attempt a few years ago to allow players to transfer back to the clubs of their fathers, where they were in an urban situation and they went back to rural clubs because they weren’t getting a game due to competition structures.
“There’s also a movement of players moving to towns and not going back to play, but it’s different to 30 or 40 years ago when you really couldn’t go back.
“Nowadays fellas travel 30-40 miles to train at home and it’s not an issue.”
O’Donovan said there was no immediate plan to review the transfer situation but down the line that “may become inevitable”.
“Transfers were designed for a particular time and maybe they should be looked at. But it’s an area that if you’re looking to provide the most games for clubs in different places... it works both ways. Fellas would say ‘good players always go to the big clubs’. Maybe, maybe not, but we’d like to keep the remit of a club in every parish at a minimum. There are more in some cases but we’d also like to see every player being available to play a game. It would have to be teased out.”
Richard Murphy echoed concerns about some city clubs not having an underage section.
“That’s been spoken of at Munster level. Munster GAA are looking at getting help to plan a structure for those clubs, to have mentoring and so on. But we have a unique situation in that 106 or 107 of our roughly 160 clubs are dual clubs. Of the others, 32 or 33 have sister clubs, so there are only 10 clubs in the county as far as I know which play football exclusively. We have to take account of that. Ten years ago there were 10 or 11 championships in Cork, now there are 19. That’s a huge development in our games programme and that has to be taken into consideration also.”
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