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How Brexit is hitting GAA in London numbers game

London calling: Leitrim visit Ruislip in 2017
London calling: Leitrim visit Ruislip in 2017
London boss Ciaran Deely
Declan Bogue

Declan Bogue

When David Cameron called the people to the polls for a referendum on the United Kingdom's continued future in the European Union in the summer of 2016, the potential effects on the GAA would have been well down the priority list.

However, it is decimating Gaelic Games in London, while one Tyrone-born solicitor who has lived for the last two decades in Manchester warns of devastating administrative malfunctions in the event of a 'no-deal' Brexit.

Fielding GAA county teams is constantly difficult for London, but the numbers speak for themselves. In 2015, 493 inter-county transfers were into London. The year of the referendum, that became 378, a 23% drop.

No-one is better qualified to assess the flow of labour than London senior football manager Ciaran Deely.

"Since I became involved in 2015, I think because the Irish economy has been going relatively well in the last number of years, the volume of players coming over from Ireland or moving to London has decreased significantly," says the former Wexford footballer.

"I don't know the figures off-hand, but they have really fallen off a cliff edge in the last few years because not as many people are travelling over to London as there once was.

"There is a feeling that Ireland is booming, that Ireland is doing well and so people are staying. They are not coming over."

Last month just 10 players transferred into London.

For context, 182 transfers were sanctioned to Canada in the same month.

When Deely scouts the county for talent, the pool is becoming ever more shallow.

"And because of the profile of the people coming over now, it is more difficult to get a player to come out and play," states Deely.

"If he is working in the financial district, if he is a lawyer, or even if he is a teacher in some of these new academies, it is a huge workload they have and their first priority is certainly not football or hurling.

"We struggle to get lads to commit at this stage. There are a lot of good footballers in London who don't play for London. I know that's always been the way, but it is probably more pronounced at the moment.

"People are working in different jobs and, in the London club scene at the moment, it is a real struggle for teams to field."

Every crisis is an opportunity however, and the London senior football team is evolving into a self-perpetuating entity.

Deely says: "From our starting 15 in the league, it went from anything from four to seven players being London-born.

"In terms of the overall squad of 30, there are probably about 13 players who were born here," Deely adds.

Tír Chonaill Gaels have put enormous work into their underage coaching over the past 15 years. They now have the Butler brothers Philip and Killian, Liam Gavigan and Ryan Elliott all staffing the county team. Other clubs that have no youth policy, relying on enough players to reach them off the plane, are the ones who are struggling.

That's not where the Brexit headaches end. Sean Hackett, a solicitor originally from Ballygawley, Tyrone, has been living in Manchester for the best part of two decades and last year completed his term as President of the GAA in Britain.

Hackett can foresee enormous implications with information sharing in the event of a hard Brexit.

"This is a bigger issue, not necessarily for those people who are in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. Because what the Government at Westminster said, is that they will pass legislation if there is a no-deal Brexit which will simply allow data to be passed from within the United Kingdom out of it, including Europe," Hackett begins.

"The difficulty is that Europe would need to en masse pass legislation which would allow data to pass out of Europe, and by that I mean the Republic of Ireland, into the United Kingdom. At the moment, I am not aware of any steps that have been taken for any of that to happen.

"The question then is if data, be it relating to players' injuries, membership, team sheets, all of that data, how is it going to pass from the Republic of Ireland out into Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales? That remains to be seen."

Matters are further complicated by various administration arrangements.

The company Servasport have the contract for the membership database for the GAA worldwide. However, the company and server is based in Belfast. As soon as Northern Ireland falls outside of the European Union all the data that is held there on that server will be legitimate, but any processing of the data, particularly if it is coming from the Republic of Ireland out to the server in Belfast, could cause issues for how that data passes through the border, when it goes outside the European Union.

Aside from all that, the most divisive political result in generations has had an insidious effect.

"It is my view that it has divided the British people terribly here," adds Hackett.

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