It's a last resort but rural clubs could be forced to amalgamate to continue existence, says GAA chief
GAA President John Horan has said that amalgamations of rural clubs will be an inevitable consequence of depopulation.
Horan spoke at the Seanad Éireann on the very issue back in January, as the first GAA President to speak to what is effectively the upper house of the Irish Parliament, and he revisited his thoughts.
He said: "In a real sense, we can't be held responsible for the lack of broadband in localities in rural areas which is bringing people out of those areas.
"Not alone are you getting the shift in Ireland nationally towards the east, but you are getting it in counties themselves."
The GAA have kept track of shifting population trends and have in place an Urban-Rural Committee. They found that you don't just get shifts from west to east in a province like Ulster, but it occurs within counties themselves.
For example, Westmeath has experienced a growing boom along the motorway towards Dublin from Athlone across to Kinnegad.
All this means that rural Ireland, which has been sustained by the local GAA club in many instances, is struggling for numbers in a variety of sports and activities, while childhood obesity levels are higher than ever before.
"We don't want clubs disappearing," insisted a determined Horan.
"Amalgamations are a last resort as your club identity is what's important to you. I am coming in here and fellas are jibing me about being a Na Fianna man. That's it, you are what you are and if you amalgamate clubs unfortunately you will break down some of those local rivalries.
"We do allow independent teams, we help clubs get over a period of difficulty. Under-age Go-Games allow you to field independent teams to try and keep it going. You might not have the numbers at under-age but you could have enough coming through.
"It's probably a saving grace to some rural clubs that players come home to them to play and bring a bit of life into the place at the weekend.
"We are concerned. I suppose we are a bit like the Post Office in a wee community. You don't want to see them disappear or be forced into amalgamations, but it is an economic trend more than anything else and we can't control those factors."