There is hardly a club in Kilkenny that has not been impacted by the scourge of emigration. For many it is now a case of survival in a particular grade rather than dreaming of championship success, writes Nickey Brennan.
Whatever about the loss to the local GAA club, the absence of these young men and women in their respective communities robs them of an opportunity to live, grow up, achieve or whatever with their own families, friends and neighbours. The Irish have always been the wandering type, heading to far flung destinations in search of work and excitement.
This has regularly been by choice, but sadly friends and neighbours are now often left with little option but to head abroad in search of employment. Parishes and villages throughout are becoming lonelier places because of the absence of so many young people.
Regrettably, the situation is not going to improve in the medium term and clubs will have to plan for further emigration.
I see that GAA President Liam O’Neill recently appointed a former holder of the office, Joe McDonagh, to advise the ’Association on this matter. I welcome this development because in Joe McDonagh he has a man with an intimate knowledge of the subject.
It is worth noting also that former Kerry great, Pat Spillane was appointed by the Government to head a special Task Force dealing with the decline in rural population. Hopefully between these two staunch GAA men, young people will be given some hope for better times ahead.
GAA playing its part
The direct connection between the economic woes of the country and the scourge of emigration are obvious to everyone. Despite the protestations of Government spokespersons that matters are improving, many remain unconvinced.
Hopefully those in employment will keep their jobs and improved economic activity will, at least, generate enough jobs to lessen the pace of emigration. It is ironic that at a time when the construction industry is extremely flat much of the building activity here in Kilkenny is being undertaken by GAA units.
Kilkenny County Board is currently undertaking a major development at Dunmore. John Lockes (Callan), Glenmore, Young Ireland’s (Gowran), Rower-Inistioge, Mooncoin, O’Loughlin Gaels, James Stephens and Dicksboro (I am sure I am missing others) are in the throes of various developments or have concluded their projects.
Those benefitting from these projects are not just GAA club members, but entire local communities. Some level of lotto funding has resumed, so this is a help. Ultimately, though, the clubs and their communities will fund these developments from their own resources.
The history of Ireland has shown that when communities were at their lowest ebb they rallied and helped each other through the toughest of times. Without doubt that spirit remains strong and vibrant in every community and that surely gives hope for better days ahead.
Disciplinary problems continue
Disciplinary problems raised their ugly head at the start of the year in the club championships, dragging the GAA under the spotlight again. Severe punishments were dished out and, perhaps, a stern lesson has been learned regarding sideline behaviour.
The GAA recently introduced new sideline regulations which will operate in 2013. Their aim is to lessen the likelihood of clashes between mentors and substitutes.
But when it came to handling discipline on the pitch too often referees failed to protect the players. Let’s not confuse the natural physical combative fare of hurling with blatant thuggery.
Kilkenny players are well able to look after themselves and I have always accepted that on a few occasions some stepped over the line and were rightly punished. The reality is that a number of incidents this year were out of order and those responsible should have been punished.
I wrote about those incidents before and I am pleased that there was an acknowledgement that the appropriate sanctions were not taken by the match officials at the time. We should know early in the New Year if the attitude of referees towards indiscipline has changed.
And now there are the proposals from the Football Review Committee which aim to radically change the handling of discipline on the field of play for Gaelic football. The six million dollar question is whether those proposals might transfer across to hurling, either as they stand or in a different format.
Remember the Sin Bin? I always believed it should never have been scrapped and now it’s on the way back in some format or other.
Annus Horribilis for camogie
I am sure everyone involved with Kilkenny camogie was glad to see the end of 2012. For a county with such a glorious record and exceptional under-age success in recent years, it is difficult to fathom what went wrong this past year.
I know a number of players were unavailable for a variety of reasons, but that hardly explains a series of disappointing performances which included defeats to Dublin and Offaly. Granted, those counties have improved over recent years.
However, given the scale of under-age success at inter-county and colleges level enjoyed by Kilkenny I thought we should have seen more of these talented players on the senior scene by now. It is best to look forward rather than back when it comes to Kilkenny camogie.
A new regime recently took over the Kilkenny Camogie Board. We wish them the best of luck in their endeavours.
On the club scene, I encourage GAA clubs to work towards greater integration of the camogie and ladies football clubs in their parish to deliver on the GAA slogan ‘Club is Family’.
Gambling now a real concern
The notion of gambling on the outcome of GAA games is not new, but it does seem to have hit epidemic proportions if a study by the GPA is to be believed.
When this story first hit the headlines I felt that maybe the allegations were somewhat exaggerated. Now after speaking to a variety of sources I am satisfied that there is plenty of substance in the GPA’s findings.
One could look at this development, albeit not new, in two completely different ways. There is firstly the concern that perhaps games might be decided by players or officials who get embroiled in a match-fixing scam.
There is no evidence right now to support any such misdemeanours, but one would be foolish to think it could never happen.
Then there is the reality that betting on GAA games is taking place and the ’Association has no control whatsoever over such developments. So is there a way the GAA can benefit financially from all this betting activity?
If Horse and Greyhound Racing can benefit from gambling by thousands of punters around the country, why should the GAA not benefit also by way of a small levy on every bet?
As the GAA continues to look for new sources of income to support its activities around the country, it is surely not unreasonable that if third parties can benefit financially from GAA activities, then the owner of the property (in this case the GAA) should be entitled to a small slice of the action.
The big danger, though, is that any move in such a direction by the GAA could create far more problems than it solves.
Uproar at Féile restructuring
The proposal to change the qualification process by which teams participate in Féile-na-nGael is going to create a big controversy next year. Already a number of County Boards, including Kilkenny, have made their views known that they oppose any change.
There is a huge sense of pride and achievement for any club at qualifying to represent their county at Féile. Admittedly, in the case of Kilkenny, it has tended to be a core group of clubs who have represented the county. But then if you win the competition in Kilkenny you are entitled to represent the county.
Despite the efforts at changing the qualification format, somehow I think the status quo will remain and the competition will continue to be one of the premier activities on the GAA calendar.
In the GAA everything is ultimately local, so when a young lad receives full marks in the Féile-na-nGael national skills final it is something to celebrate. During the summer Edmond Delaney from Conahy Shamrocks delivered the first full marks in the competition since it was inaugurated. It was a tremendous achievement by Edmond.
Gone but not forgotten
I knew Paidí Ó Sé very well, so like everyone, I was shocked to hear of his death, aged 57. He was an exceptional talent when it came to Gaelic football. He lined out at senior for his club, An Ghaeltacht, at 14 years of age and he made the Kerry seniors by 19.
A medal haul that included eight senior All-Ireland titles; 11 Muster senior titles; four National League titles and five All-Star awards is testimony to an outstanding career. He was a defender of rare quality with huge energy to outlast the best of opponents. In all his All-Ireland final performances he conceded a single point. That’s some record!
More success followed with two All-Ireland titles as manager of his native Kerry in 1997 and 2000 and a Leinster title success with Westmeath in 2004.
The term ‘larger than life’ is often overused. It fits Paidí perfectly. He was a passionate Gaeilgeóir with a huge love of his native place in Ventry. His public house was a mecca for travellers to West Kerry as he hosted stars of stage and screen, and indeed many a politician.
He was never afraid to speak his mind and incurred the wrath of some people occasionally. Paidí did not care because if something needed to be said, he said it.
Billy Walton may not have had the same profile nationally as Paidí Ó Sé, but in Kilkenny and the James Stephens club in particular he was a colossus in the community. After a successful inter-county and club career, Billy put all his energy into the under-age section of the James Stephens club and in more recent times into the development on the new Kells Road facility.
Like Paidí Ó Sé, Billy was called to his eternal reward at an all too young age. His loss to his family is immense, but everyone in the James Stephens club will miss him greatly also.
During the past year two great GAA stalwarts, Jim Hogan and Tom Ryan, were also called to their eternal reward. We lost many more great GAA followers during 2012, and they are fondly remembered in the Kilkenny GAA Yearbook.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.