There has been much debate recently about the impact of emigration on GAA clubs. While much of the debate has understandably been focused on the detrimental impact on local clubs, it must also be recognised that we are witnessing an important expansion in the profile of the game internationally. As local GAA clubs lose a steady stream of talented young footballers to emigration these same players are joining new clubs outside of Ireland. They are finding a way to continue their sporting careers and keeping an all-important link with home in the process. In this way, as new clubs spring up all over the world, they are contributing to a thriving international GAA scene. Additionally, these overseas GAA clubs are the core of Irish communities in various countries.
Impact on Irish Clubs
The effect on clubs in Ireland, principally small rural clubs, has been severe. Some clubs are witnessing several players leaving each year. Most of the players who are leaving are recent university graduates, or young skilled trade professionals, who are unable to find employment in the country. It is a phenomenon that is not confined solely to small clubs. Inter-county players have also been forced to leave these shores to look for work. Fourteen players on Leitrim’s county panel emigrated in 2012, and several others are currently unemployed. Louth lost 11 players in 2012 as well. Last year it was estimated that the country was losing roughly 250 players a month.
Impact on the International Game
On the other side of this is the growing stature of the game internationally. Clubs can be found from Vancouver, Canada to Wellington, New Zealand and everywhere in between. There are numerous clubs in Australia and New Zealand, and in Asia clubs can be found in Singapore, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and many other countries. Britain and North America remain the two strongholds of Gaelic football internationally, with dozens of clubs in London and New York alone. Overall there are over 400 clubs outside of Ireland with about 16,000 people actively playing. The game is growing very rapidly in China and Europe, two locations in which the GAA had a limited presence until quite recently. Collins McNicholas recently visited Eindhoven Shamrocks, a new addition to the European GAA scene founded by a group of Irish graduate engineers, and they have already assembled an impressive group of Irish and local players.
GAA Networks and Finding a Job
In contrast to previous episodes of large-scale emigration from Ireland, there are a lot of young professionals and graduates who are well educated and highly skilled. Although the proliferation of international clubs is mainly due to the emigration of recent years, there has also been a notable increase in the number of local people taking up the sport. International clubs are typically well-integrated parts of their community, with excellent links with local businesses. Many of the older players at the club will be well-established members of their community and will be able to provide assistance in finding employment. The GAA club provides great support for new emigrants, allowing them to make valuable connections that will help them obtain work, organise accommodation and much more. Clubs are willing and able to help these recent migrants find their feet when they arrive.
Promoting GAA Internationally
Promoting the game internationally has become more of a priority for the GAA. In November Liam O’Neill, President of the GAA, gave a speech in New York highlighting the goal of eventually having more people playing the game internationally than domestically. This would only be possible with the game being taken up by people outside of the Irish diaspora. Possible strategies for promoting the game internationally must include better management of TV rights. It is currently very difficult to view a game outside of Ireland. The development of a twinning program between a club in Ireland and an international partner would also encourage links between the domestic and international scenes. There are many ways in which the scope of the game could be broadened internationally and there is no better time than now, with a young Irish vanguard leading the way. Involvement with an international GAA club is a great way to retain a connection with Ireland and to help you settle into your new life overseas.
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