WE'LL let you into a secret – writing columns isn’t as easy as we always manage to make it look, no siree.
Sometimes, you sit and wait but the Ideas Train is late arriving into Brain Station, or has deposited its cargo elsewhere and you’re just left with the dregs. We are of course talking about, less impressive columnists than yours truly, of course.
So, there we were on Monday morning, still ruminating over the weekend’s events over champagne and caviar (actually, tea and nothing else) when we spotted the announcement on Twitter that French rugby clubs Racing 92 and Stade Français were to merge.
Of course, these things are never perfectly equal and, while ‘merger’ was the word used, it was telling that Stade’s press release featured a logo combining the two clubs’ identities and colours while Racing’s statement on their website simply featured their own crest. Reading between the lines, it would appear to be more of a takeover, but let’s not get bogged down in the semantics.
The news did provide an opportunity for a nice GAA-related pun, though: in the past few years, we’ve been used to mergers of clubs from the same parish, but here was a coming together of two clubs from the same Paris. We tweeted something to that effect, but like all of our tweets, it didn’t receive the appreciation it deserved.
In GAA, we tend to use the word ‘amalgamation’ rather than ‘merger’, presumably because that gives more of a sense of two units working together rather than becoming one, indivisible whole.
It’s more accurate too, in that the bulk of these amalgamations are (for now, anyway) at underage level. There has been a creeping element of it at U21 too – last year’s county U21BFC champions were Ibane Gaels, a combination of Argideen Rangers and Barryroe, for example – but the players then return to lining out for their native clubs at adult level.
The necessity for such moves ha been forced by declining populations in rural Ireland and clubs struggling to field teams at every age-level. Joining with the neighbours can ensure that numbers are sufficient, as one club may be more dominant at a certain age only for the situation to be reversed the next year.
A good example of how combining for juvenile competitions can be mutually beneficial are Kiltha Óg, which is the joining of East Cork clubs Castlemartyr and Dungourney.
When two clubs amalgamate at underage level, there can be ripples of discomfort from traditionalists who fear that, eventually, the merger will be replicated at adult level, with the disappearance of once-proud names.
That hasn’t proven to be a problem with Kiltha Óg, however – the clubs came together in 2003, and it is alumni of the new venture which backboned county junior A hurling championship successes in 2014 and ’15 respectively.
Last year was a good one for them, with the club’s U14s claiming a Premier 2 league and championship double while the U16 won a league at A level and the U12s triumphed in the autumn hurling league. As a result, they scooped the January Rebel Óg award.
Whereas in the past, a lean year at a certain age might mean players from one club lining out for the other, having equal standing has been beneficial to both, as chairman JJ Ahern outlined.
“Both clubs were suffering and they weren’t able to compete at a good level. A lot of people got together and it can always be a hard thing to get it over the line but they did.
“It has gone from strength to strength, the ethos of the club is to compete at as high a level as we can, that’s what we’ve been trying to do and we’re getting there, slowly but surely.
“We have membership now of about 170 kids, there seems to be greater numbers each year. The philosophy is that, once they hit 14, that’s the first ‘real’ championship.
“Before that, you’re giving them all as much game-time as you can because you’ll want them down along the line.
“You’ll often see a 13-year-old that mightn’t be there or thereabouts, he could be the most valuable 16-year-old.”
The U14s were the jewel in the crown, and their victory means they will compete at Premier 1 in U15 this year. It was a grade they sampled in 2015 too, but Ahern feels they are better set for the top tier now.
“We were always there or thereabouts, it was a good team,” he says. “Mike Falahee, the club coaching officer, said he’d step in and do a bit with them this year and it all just really clicked.
“They’re a great bunch of lads, they really want it and they get on fierce well.
“The best result we got at Premier 1 in U13 was that we came within a point of Midleton in the league. It was tough going but it stood to them.
“You’d be dreading going to matches but they stepped up to the mark then last year. They’ll definitely have a bigger impact at U15.”
If we’re being really picky, Kiltha Óg also get brownie points for being one of the few combinations which don’t have the word ‘Gaels’ in their name, usually following that of a river in the general amalgamation area, sufficiently neutral so as not to be claimed by either side.
Deciding on a name, and colours, can often provide the biggest bone of contention. Mixing the existing kits can produce an awful combination, while the suggestion of something completely new will be met with opposition from those who feel heritage is being thrown away.
If the new French rugby entity runs out in blue and white with just a hint of pink, we’ll know who held the power in the negotiations. Though, they’re sorted for the ‘Gaels’ equivalent, given that the translation for ‘French’ is already in one of the names.