Almost 100 players from Leitrim clubs have been forced to leave the country last year due to unemployment, an investigation by the Leitrim Observer has revealed.
Leitrim lost 99 players overall last year after each club revealed the number of members who have been forced to leave the country in search of work. The number rises to 106, if the players who are only partially available to clubs during the year are taken into account (studying abroad). The inter-county squad was also hit, as 14 of these players were part of the senior set-up.
The GAA transfer archives shows that 18 players officially left the county for clubs outside of Ireland in 2012. These archives are the GAA’s database for tracking the movements of players from club to club, both nationally and internationally. However, this figure fails to record the number of players who leave the country and fail to register with a club in their new location, meaning that a very significant proportion of GAA members leaving the country go unrecorded.
The current joint-manager of the inter-county team, Barney Breen, was keen to outline how emigration in 2012 was one of the most difficult things that he and George Dugdale, have to deal with.
“We were with a wobbler of 14 guys leaving the squad. Eight of the team that beat Sligo in the 2011 championship either emigrated or retired, mostly emigrated due to a lack of work. We found it very hard at the beginning of last year, with the squad being depleted.”
Breen explained how emigration itself isn’t the only issue and that the time necessary to replace the departed player by developing someone new can take years.
“The biggest thing about today’s game is the aspect of strength and conditioning. A player has to be built up over three of four year period of strength and conditioning. When you invest in a guy for a year or two and then he leaves then you are starting off again from year one. We found that this was our biggest problem last year, as we didn’t have the power to compete with the bigger teams.”
The issue of players migrating to different parts of the country is also an issue that had to be managed. With his players dotted all over the country, Breen revealed that the cost of travel to get these players up to training can be has high as €90,000 in a year.
Of the 24 clubs in Leitrim, St. Marys reported the highest loss of players with 13 (eight men and 5 women) being forced to emigrate. Carrigallen and Kiltubrid both suffered harshly to emigration in 2012, as they lost eight and nine players respectively.
Carrigallen had a particularly difficult year due to their loss of players. They lost many players from the spine of their team, which led to a relegation play-off in the championship and demotion in the league.
Carrigallen club chairman, Eamon Quinn explained how the plight of emigration had affected his club over the past number of years.
“In 2012, we lost eight players. Seven of them would have been senior players and six of them would definitely have been in our starting 15. They were lost to America, Australia and Bulgaria, all of them were in search of work.”
“It made the season a very tough one. We ended up being relegated out of division one and fortunately, we won a play-off to stay in the senior championship. Every club is losing players to emigration and to other sports. The GAA has an up-hill battle to maintain its high profile in every community.”
The current senior county champions, Melvin Gaels were able to claim their seventh senior title, despite the losing six players to emigration.
The countries that are proving to be most common for emigrants from Leitrim are Australia, the United States, England and Canada. A minority of players have travelled to less popular regions in Sweden, Norway and Dubai.
The only clubs not lose any players were Aughawillan, Aughnasheelin, Balinaglera and Glencar Manorhamilton. Ballinamore also reported that they had lost no player permanently but they had three players who were only available to them during the summer months, as they are currently studying abroad.
• Liam McDermott is a freelance journalist from Co. Mayo. He is currently studying in the University of Limerick and has been published in the Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald, the Mayo News and the Western People.