GAA clubs up and down the country sit idle at present waiting to see just what the future holds once the current Covid-19 crisis is put to bed.
No club is exempt from the pressure that the shutdown has brought, however some will potentially feel the pain more than others as revenues and participation levels are bound to suffer in the current and subsequent years.
Ballyclough’s juvenile GAA club has seen more than its fair share of successes and challenges over the years, producing players of the calibre of Colm O’Neill (below) and Paul Flynn at football while collecting plenty of team honours in both codes since it first opened its doors back in the early 1950s.
Ballyclough’s U12s, U14s, U16s and minors have won many North Cork and County finals down through the years with the standout achievements coming in 1993, 1994, 1999, 2010 and 2015.
In ‘93, the club’s minor footballers won the county final with the hurlers matching that feat the following year. 1999 saw the U12s, (captained by none other than O’Neill) taking their county final beating Kilshannig. 2015 saw the hurlers take North Cork silverware — a much celebrated achievement which coincided with the unveiling of a large redevelopment of the facilities just outside the village.
While there may well be plenty silverware in the trophy cabinet at the Avondhu club there is little doubting that the juvenile setup is facing challenging times with numbers indicating a serious amount of work needs to be done by all concerned.
Juvenile club chairman, Danny McAuliffe, is well placed to identify those challenges that his boyhood club faces and while the workload may be extensive the lifelong Ballyclough GAA man feels there is plenty room for optimism.
“This year we have nearly 90 kids signed up at the juvenile club from U6 up to minor. From under 14 to minor we are joined with Milford as St Kevin’s so we are able to offer our players competitive action all the way from when they first start playing to when they want to retire.
“Of course, the numbers are tight in Ballyclough, that is clear for all to see but we need to work with what we have and attempt to develop a culture in the club. The numbers are down all over the area with less kids in the national school and less around the general area. Ballyclough had one small estate built almost 20 years ago so there has been no significant influx of families into the area in the last few decades so straight away you can see where the main problem is.”
This is much more than just a numbers game, however, as McAuliffe outlines.
“The lack of numbers isn’t the only issue, many rural clubs face the same challenge.
“As the people charged with running the club it is our job to make sure that we keep as many of the youngsters that sign up at the start of their sporting lives playing with Ballyclough all the way to adulthood — and at the moment we are doing pretty well.
“I would say nearly every eligible kid in the national school at present plays with us so on that score we are maximizing our resources.
“We have wonderful facilities here and they are being used every day. Before the Covid-19 shutdown the pitch was being used seven days and nights a week with players from U6 up to adults down there playing.”
Silverware is obviously a major goal for all involved in sport but sometimes other goals have to take precedence and in the case of Ballyclough, that is something that most locals can appreciate.
“Different clubs have different goals and different challenges and for us the main goal now has to be to get as many of the U8s that play with us to stay playing with the club all the way to the adult teams. If we can hold all of them or as close as possible to all of them involved then that will have to be seen as a success.”
The second challenge is almost as important but again McAuliffe feels it must be addressed if the club is to prosper in the future.
“On both the hurling and football fronts we need to get kids out there with a ball or a hurley all the time. You see it is places like Newtownshandrum where every kid walks around with a hurley in their hand all the time.
“With that in mind we are developing an initiative with the local school here that kids will be able to bring hurleys to school on certain days to help them stay involved with the game.
“Ballyclough was always a great hurling club but seemed to get recognised for football thanks to some great success and of course the likes of Colm and Paul.
“The locals love their GAA and credit to all those that have put in work in the club over the years. Ballyclough Juvenile GAA Club has plenty to offer young kids in the area and it is our job to make sure that what we offer is as good as it can be.
“Our training sessions need to give kids the best chance to learn the basics then the skills required to compete and I believe we are in a good place to provide just that. There are plenty positives in Ballyclough.”