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27 November 2008 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY

Transferring out of the country

DAVID McWilliams recently wrote an article in which he claimed that the statistics on inter-county club transfers within the GAA reflected a steep rise in the numbers leaving the country. He compared the figures for January of this year to August, which indicated that while very few players transferred to clubs abroad in January that this had risen dramatically by August.
This was interesting and would appear to confirm anecdotal evidence but McWilliams left himself open to attack from GAA anoraks who pointed out that the number of players seeking to play for teams in other countries is always higher during the summer – except that August isn’t the summer and players going to play abroad for the summer will leave in May or June not August.
I was interested enough to have a look myself and the figures on transfers do indeed make McWilliams’s case for him, although what he ought to have done was to compare the same month in different years. For example, in September 2002 there were just 24 inter-county transfers. Eight of these were to Britain and none to the United States. In fact, the eight were exactly complemented by seven players who were returning from Australia to their clubs here, and by one player transferring from Jersey to Ireland.
Contrast that with September of this year. There were 62 transfers of which 34 were from Irish clubs to clubs based in England and Scotland. One was from here to New York and five were from Irish clubs to clubs in Australia. Eleven players returned from Britain and the States to Ireland. Which amounts to a net increase of overseas transfers from zero in September 2002 to 29 in 2008.

ACCORDING to official statistics (and they do not measure the full extent of emigration, especially to the United States), over 40,000 people left the 26 Counties in the first four months of 2008. If the GAA transfers are any indication, at least as many have departed since. Half of those who left were Irish citizens.
The reason people are leaving, of course, has to do with the economic downturn although the number of people officially entering the state between January and April was still over 80,000.
McWilliams makes a valid point regarding the manner in which the GAA mirrors Irish society and how the relative prosperity of recent times led to an expansion of clubs and an improvement in facilities. Unfortunately, the opposite is now beginning to happen and clubs are starting to feel the impact of the downturn.
Apart from the loss of club players, cuts in education will mean that sport will suffer and this will result in fewer pupils having the opportunity to engage in the sport of their choice at school, which again will have a knock-on effect in the clubs both in terms of numbers and standards.
It was said of one Leitrim team that played in the Connacht championship one year in the mid-1980s that all of them had emigrated a year later. Many clubs around the country were unable to field teams and once-strong clubs went into decline, some of them only to recover in the last decade.
It would be unfortunate if we were to have to experience all of that again. Of course, there are those who think that people can’t leave quickly enough, unless you are prepared to work for buttons, and preferably below the dreaded minimum wage that has apparently ruined all those unfortunate purveyors of lattes and breakfast rolls who, of course, were barely making ends meet during the good times.
The ‘enriching’ experience of emigration is almost as much a misnomer as the term ‘Irish capitalist’, given that few of the latter actually employ anyone to make anything other than beds and sandwiches. Where other countries had their iron and coal barons, we have finance and property speculators and their satellites.

NOT that voluntary migration is a bad thing. A certain amount of people will always choose to travel abroad although most intend to return. When people leave because there is no work for them, that is not voluntary. And when an entire cohort of young people in one area leave that is not enriching.
The bottom line is that the vast bulk of migratory activity these days is the direct result of economic factors. Either the desire of employers to pay as little as possible or the destruction of jobs that were actually paying people some sort of a decent wage. At the moment, we have a combination of those factors, hence the contradictory inward and outward movements.
Anyway, none of it bodes well for the GAA or any other sports group or the community in general. Any one of us who is old enough to remember the 1980s will have no romantic notions about the joys of mass unemployment and emigration. Nor of the negative impact which they had on the fabric of society.
The naively romantic among us might like to think that misery brings radicalisation and exciting political developments. History would tend to indicate different unless from a despair at the destruction of whatever little people had. And the results are seldom an improvement.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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