ENHANCING club activity in urban centres of population is possibly the greatest challenge facing the GAA going forward, new President Christy Cooney believes.
Informing delegates that while they had lost ground to other sports, a dedicated committee in Croke Park will be working with county boards to develop ways of assisting existing clubs to grow their membership — while at the same time attracting new clubs and new club concepts in urban areas.
“We have made great progress in this area in the recent past, particularly in Dublin and Derry. We will study the good work there, identify what worked well, and use it elsewhere,” he stated. “And this will be linked with our ‘Inclusion and Integration Strategy’ which was launched last week, where we will be reaching out to all members of society, regardless of age, nationality, religion and ability and offering them a ‘Fáilte Romhat’ into our Association.”
In the current year they will have plans to launch specific initiatives in six key urban areas — Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford — and will benchmark their current participation rate and membership, while setting targets for attracting and retaining more members ‘into their family’.
Speaking generally, he said he had strong feelings about the need to continue driving forward — ‘not at break neck speed in helter-skelter fashion but in a carefully planned and considered way, that will consolidate and build on the strides made in recent decades.
“In that context the idea of borrowing funds — should the need arise — to sustain our ongoing development projects, is something that we should not dismiss out of hand. We have no intention of retreating into a shell to become an insular, fearful organisation, especially not at a time when so much good work is being undertaken on our behalf and so much of it on a voluntary basis. I have every confidence that like the country, we can come through these challenging times and show real leadership like our founding fathers.”
In overall terms, he outlined six core focus areas he intends to concentrate in his first year and on which he expects to be measured through delivery of these aims. These are: (1) implementing the Strategic Plan, (2) ensuring the club maintains its importance at the centre of the Association, (3) promoting their voluntary ethos, (4) improving the support systems for all of players, (5) connecting with their youth and (6) addressing the urban challenge.
He was especially generous in his tribute to outgoing President Nickey Brennan, saying that either in business or within the GAA he had rarely come across an individual with such ‘boundless energy, drive and enthusiasm’ and an overwhelming desire to improve the Association on behalf of the membership.
“He always did the right thing for the Association. That is, I believe, what he will be remembered for and what a great legacy to leave behind.”
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