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Newry GAA club battling to keep gates open after 60 years

 

By John Campbell

Down may have retained their status in Division Two of the Allianz League and reached the Ulster senior football championship final this year, but this does not mask the fact that difficulties are currently being experienced at grassroots level within the county.

This is highlighted by the robust drive which has been launched to save the Newry Mitchels club from possible extinction following its inability to attract young players in particular.

The club was founded 60 years ago and, while it tasted considerable success in its infancy with four Down senior championship titles arriving in the 1960's along with a number of junior titles in the 70's and 80's, it has since endured lean times and never more so than at present.

The club currently boasts a senior team - and therein lies the crux of the problem.

"We need to be attracting more young players because this is what secures the future of clubs," explains secretary Declan Carolan. "We had upwards of one hundred people at a meeting in relation to the club's future on Tuesday night and there were some positive vibes emerging from this.

"It was encouraging to see some former officials of the club there and to hear their views. Even though Newry is a city now with a big and indeed ever-growing population, it has not enjoyed much in the way of meaningful success in a GAA context."

"There are two other clubs in the city, Shamrocks and John Bosco, and they are battling for young players just like ourselves.

"Then we have clubs like Ballyholland and Corrinshego, which is actually in county Armagh, on the fringe of the city and they are also anxious to get more young blood on board. Obviously it's a difficult challenge for us, but we were heartened by what emerged from the meeting."

Carolan accepts that the preponderance of other sports in the city and the amenities which facilitate these sports pose a big challenge to Mitchels in terms of attracting new blood.

"We need to get more young players in and also recruit additional helpers who can perhaps coach and guide them," adds Carolan. "It would also be great if we could attract people who might assume particular roles within the club."

Indeed, the absence of what one club official describes as "a real base" is a source of considerable concern to club officers.

"In most clubs the building blocks are the young players who form the under-age sides, and then they gradually move higher up the scale to eventually form the senior team. But you need that real base from which to start - this is a requirement that is acknowledged within every club," points out Carolan.

"Our problem is that we don't have that, and this is what serves to make the future so uncertain.

"We are also deemed to be the poor relations in terms of our facilities and, while we have a pitch, we don't have the facilities which are taken for granted in other clubs nowadays.

"It is no secret that players like to have facilities and amenities which are conducive to their enjoyment of gaelic games."

Club officials plan to take on board some of the suggestions made at Tuesday's meeting.

Obviously fund-raising is proving difficult because of an overall lack of personnel and, while the senior team is scheduled to participate in Division Four of the Down All-County League, the hope is that it will complete its programme of fixtures satisfactorily.

In the current uncertain climate, that certainly would be viewed as an achievement in itself.

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