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Outside opportunities making it hard for clubs to keep key men

By Joe Kernan

Successive GAA Presidents have alluded to the fact that the club is the bedrock of the Association.

Few people will dispute this, of course. Without the clubs, there would be little community spirit and no county teams.

Yet as we enter summer, many clubs throughout the country are striving to come to terms with the fact that they will be without some of their best players for the most important part of the season.

No fewer than three members opted off the Armagh panel last weekend to pursue work opportunities in the United States where, I have no doubt, they will be afforded an opening to play football as well.

Indeed, anecdotal evidence would suggest that players who are members of some county squads are actually 'clocking off' even before their teams' championship run has ended, so that they can jet off elsewhere.

And while their absence is usually a setback for the county boss, it is very often a mortal blow for a club manager who has been trying to maintain adequate playing resources in the face of continuing emigration spanning the entire year, but which is amplified in summer.

It is frustrating for managers and coaches to see players who they may have weaned from the Under-10 side suddenly depart from a club, perhaps when they are coming to the peak of their playing powers.

It was Down manager James McCartan who best summed up the dilemma facing managers when he said: "I don't own the players, they are amateurs who lead their own lives."

He is absolutely right there. No matter how passionate fans may be about their clubs and counties and irrespective of how they highly they regard club loyalty, at the end of the day players have their own lives to lead away from football.

And if this means that they must go abroad to find work or pursue their sporting careers – or both – then we have to live with that.

Down is one county which has been hard hit by emigration, while the latest tranche of players to depart from Armagh ensures that Paul Grimley's job as manager of a side that is focussing on the qualifiers is not made any easier.

The hope is that emigration will subside, although with the economy still fragile and job opportunities scarce, it is perhaps an unrealistic aspiration.

But we must not lose faith just the same.

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