Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Migration and injury are worrying trends splitting up more GAA sides

Some time in the late spring of 2010, the Leitrim team assembled at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada to have their photograph taken as the Championship squad.

Two years later, the Irish Independent led a page with that photograph. The 32 men in Carrick-on-Shannon that night were either in black and white or colour after a bit of Photoshop wizardry. Those in colour were still involved in the county panel. There were only ten.

'Many Young Men of Twenty' was both a play and a song written by John B Keane on the enforced emigration of young, energetic males. It was set in the 1960's but the same themes have returned to these shores in the last few years. It used to be thought that the 22 men that left Leitrim was – while a huge number – understandable given their low standing in the game and the minor threat of landing any silverware in Connacht.

In this context, the recent news of three Down players leaving the country is notable. It has not even been three years since they contested an All-Ireland final, and they were last year's beaten Ulster finalists, losing to eventual All-Ireland champions Donegal.

A similar photograph to that Leitrim example could be unearthed to illustrate how difficult a job it has been to maintain a challenge in the top flight of the league and in Championship for Down manager James McCartan.

Before the 2010 All-Ireland final, which they lost by a point to Cork, the starting 15 linked arms for the playing of the anthem. From left to right on that line, Declan Rooney has been injured this season. Kevin McKernan has been moved from half-back to plug a hole in midfield, Paul McComiskey is now away off travelling, Martin Clarke left in 2011 to resume his Australian Rules career.

Skip Dan McCartan and come to John Clarke, now retired. Skip Mark Poland and arrive at Dan Gordon who has been struggling with injury for the past couple of years. Next was the now-retired Damian Rafferty, beside Danny Hughes who has spent the last two years in an injury hell. Ditto Conor Garvey. Peter Fitzpatrick emigrated last year for a new life and work in Australia.

The Down team were led that day by their captain, the totemic Ambrose Rogers, who could not play due to injury. After an impressive return last year, he has spent this season laid up again, reduced to the role of spectator. They have also lost the promising Caolan Mooney to Australian Rules.

Last week, McCartan stated that you can't hold it against any young man that wishes to travel. You have to admire his patience.

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