INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Emigration draining GAA clubs of players

Gaelic games are thriving abroad as young men and women depart Ireland in search of work.

THE GAA is thriving abroad at the expense of the domestic scene, according to one county board chief.

Liam Lenihan, Limerick County Board chairman is concerned that emigration has once again depleted his county’s ranks.

With unemployment at record levels, more and more young men and women are packing their bags, hurleys included, and heading abroad. Australia, Canada and the UK are top destinations.

Six players from his own club at Tournafulla played in an Intermediate hurling final for Brother Pearses in London.

“They are following the work, and the work in England is only okay. I was in Australia last year and there were a massive amount of Irish playing in Sydney and Brisbane for clubs like Michael Cusacks,” he said.

He warned that this is having a huge impact on Limerick clubs.

“In the past two years our club has gone from senior to intermediate and down to junior”.

In Adare, two players left in the summer at the height of the championship season.

“It hasn’t been too bad so far,” a club official told the Limerick Post, “but you wouldn’t want to take your eye off the ball. We’re hearing stories that a few more lads are lining up to go, but everybody is in the same boat.”

In Askeaton, club secretary Michael J Ryan, held a different view. “Two of our top players have left in the past few weeks and it’s definitely going to get worse.

“One was an electrician and another a fitter… sure the construction industry is gone”.

In the village of Athea on the border with Kerry, where football is strong, the story is no different, as club member Sean Ahern, explained.

“Two of our best players are in Australia and one is in Spain and it’s not getting better… two or three more are going. We’re a small parish but we used to have no problem fielding players, that has changed.

“This year, we struggled to field a Junior B team and may not have one next year. It’s more a problem in West Limerick where a lot of lads have trades.”

However, clubs such as Ballybrown have been luckier, but secretary Michael Byrnes, predicts change.

“At the moment, 99% of our players are still working, some have gone back to a three-day week, but many are farming.

“We have one player unemployed… but the coming year could be a different story.”

In the city, John O’Brien of Claughaun warns that emigration has again become a fact of life.

“Players have to leave to find work, my own son is gone to Canada. In recent years we have lost four or five directly through emigration.”

“We were looking at it the other night and we just don’t know how many more will be gone between here and March”.

In the south, Anne Hickey of Ballylanders had this to say: “A lot are gone to Canada and Australia but they were out of work for 12 months or more and would have taken any work.

“It’s an awful shame, and it’s a fright to see it happen, but there’s no point in denying it”.

Colum Coomey is a reporter for the Limerick Post