Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Player exodus won’t halt An Riocht’s glory hunt

The An Riocht team which reached the semi-finals of the recent All-Ireland Club Sevens competition hosted by Kilmacud Crokes in Dublin. Included is manager Steven Poacher (extreme left) and selector Tom Cunningham (extreme right)

The Down county board has once again managed to complete all its domestic competitions on schedule — and this despite the fact that there has been wholesale emigration from clubs.

The drain of players from the county has now become a flow but that has not stopped Mourne administrators from adhering rigidly to their fixtures deadlines.

“We hear too much about other counties encountering difficulties in having their leagues and championships completed but we just press on regardless,” says chairman Seamus Walsh.

“Our aim is to make sure that club players, who form the vast bulk of our membership, get regular games and we always make this a priority.”

One club that has been very badly affected by emigration is An Riocht.

Its two most high-profile players Martin Clarke and James Colgan have gone to Australia and New Zealand respectively while no fewer than 24 other players have departed from the ranks over the past couple of seasons.

Secretary Joe Donnan spells out some stark statistics that underline what is a major problem in Down.

“Of our An Riocht team that won the All County League in 2007, a total of 14 players have left this county to seek work overseas.

“They have been joined by another 12 from our other sides.

“And many of these are promising Under 21 players on whom we had been pinning our hopes for the foreseeable future,” explains Donnan.

“Many of them had been with the club since they were part of our Under 8 side so you can imagine the heartache this exodus has caused us all.”

Clarke and Colgan of course were members of the Down squad while a number of other players had been showing the kind of form which might have brought them to the attention of James McCartan.

But now that they are gone, An Riocht officials are faced with the task of re-building almost from scratch.

And this makes for big problems for manager Gerard Colgan, himself a former player.

“We have players like Seamus Curran, Declan Campbell, Leo Sloan and others still with us and fortunately they are all currently working here,” explains Donnan.

He has been secretary for all but two years since 1982 and despite the difficulties which his side is encountering his pride in the county is unshakeable. We were all cheering for Kevin McKernan who did Down so proud in the International Rules and we will be behind Burren when they meet Roslea in the Ulster Club championship on Sunday,” states Dornan.

“This is a big chance for Burren to show Down club football in the best possible light despite the massive emigration which has hit us.

“It’s important that everyone rallies round and gets behind Burren — they deserve the support of us all.”

And he promises there will be no let-up on the part of An Riocht in their trawl for fresh talent to plug the void left by the emigration exodus.

“We will be keeping the flag flying here in An Riocht even though times and the economic situation have changed drastically.

“We will keep her lit at all costs,” smiles Donnan.

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