GAA clubs continue to remain centres of the community

Amid the changes to sport and training, GAA clubs in rural areas try their best to keep the community together during hard times

No part of Ireland has not felt the effects of Covid-19. Rural communities in particular have taken this hit close to home. What continues to remain constant though, is the influence of the GAA clubs on their surrounding areas and how they were forced to try and bring back a sense of normality in times when everything is changing.

GAA clubs throughout Ireland have faced severe difficulties over the last 7 months as the way in which clubs could fundraise has been greatly reduced. Whether it be through bag packing in Dunnes Stores or a club lotto every Saturday in the local pubs, these GAA clubs and the communities which they house are trying to continue existing in a climate where they are running on less and less money. Foxrock Cabinteely GAA club is an all-girls GAA club that exists in close proximity to two other, larger mixed clubs. For this team to be able to compete on a fair playing field, they needed the extra income to combat the better facilities of Cuala and Kilmacrud Crokes.

“The GAA’s core principles have always been to bring the community together.”

The GAA’s core principles have always been to bring the community together. Before the global pandemic, there was much debate that money began to run the clubs that were supposed to benefit the community. It seems that something as drastic as the outbreak of coronavirus across the country has forced clubs to re-evaluate the principles they were founded on.

To Foxrock: “Community means everything to our club.” No supporters to be allowed at any games was a shock to the system. Many had been used to the incredible support of club and family, but when they played their championship games with no support, it was difficult for some to have the passion, fire, and drive that comes with an energetic crowd. When the Senior team made the Dublin final just a few weeks ago, the match was streamed live through the Dublin Ladies YouTube channel. While this could be seen as an excellent chance for more media coverage for Foxrock Cabinteely, it was unfortunate that the livestream glitched throughout, which then made it difficult for the supporters to feel as included as they could have been if they were at the match in person.

There have been other efforts by the GAA to reunite the community, and in particular help the elderly at a time when they are at especially risk. SuperValu, which sponsors the All-Ireland Football Championship, and Centra, which sponsors the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, have teamed up with the GAA to sponsor “Club Together”. This is an initiative meant to offer support to elderly during the current restrictions. “This is a testing time and one when the oft-mentioned virtues of the GAA’s community ethos needs to come to the fore,” said GAA head John Horan.

“The GAA club was the focal point of the whole town and it showed.”

In a rural community like Sligo, the effects of Covid-19 were deeply felt at training nights. There used to be more than one team training, but that was unable to continue under Covid regulations. It was bizarre for many to train on such an eerily quiet pitch, but others were ecstatic to be able to return to sport after such a long break. The GAA club was the focal point of the whole town and it showed, as a list of phone numbers of local volunteers was created and given to the vulnerable or elderly people that they could call if they needed any help or support. The community here really banded together and it brought out the best in the people as it showed how the GAA club meant a lot more to people than just playing football.