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A numbers game for Eastern Gaels

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A YEAR TO REMEMBER Pictured with some of the trophies won by Eastern Gaels GAA club in 2019 were, left to right: Michael Finnegan (Under-14 championship), Peter Walsh (Mayo Junior ‘B’ winners), Ethan Owens (Dolores Horkan competition and Ciarán Byrne East Mayo Minor ‘B’ winners), and Senan Guilfoyle (Mayo Under-13 Division 2 league). Absent from the photo was Darragh Madden (Mayo Under-15 ‘A’ winners). Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Ger Flanagan

DESPITE their recent successes, rural depopulation is one of the biggest challenges facing the likes of Eastern Gaels and other rural communities in Mayo, according to Luke Murray.
The club chairman, who is a retired primary school teacher, has been involved in the Gaels since they were formed 36 years ago and has seen worrying trends develop over time.
“I’d be hugely conscious of rural depopulation,” he said. “I won’t stray too far into the area of politics, but I would be concerned about the politics and policies that have come onboard with the new government.
“With the Department of Rural Affairs being thrown into the fire doesn’t augur well for the likes of Bekan, Brickens and Logboy, or clubs like the Ballycroys and Moygownaghs, places around the country like that.
“There was a time when I could see the Ballyhaunis-Claremorris train from the chair I am sitting on and now that is all blocked by trees which seems to be the trend, where trees are replacing people.
“The worry is that when our kids leave us for third level education in Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Cork or wherever they go, they won’t come back. We’re lucky right now that they are all returning to us and we’re delighted, but it’s a struggle, there’s no question about that.”
Murray has taken some positives from the Covid-19 situation in that it has shone a light on the possibilities and potential for more remote working, which he says could ‘revitalise’ rural areas.
With populations declining in areas like Bekan, Brickens and Logboy, financial pressures come to the fore for small clubs like Eastern Gaels.
Without a central point for business in their area, they find that they’re constantly tapping into the same people for fund-raising monies.
Eastern Gaels are fortunate to have a number of ‘fantastic sponsors on board’ but as Stephen Mooney highlights, it’s getting tougher and tougher to keep the doors open.
“Money is always an issue and you would hope that you always have enough to just keep going,” explained the club secretary. “This year, in particular, our lotto was decimated by Covid-19 and we don’t have the town, we don’t have the shops. All we had were two pubs in the parish selling, as well as a bingo session and card game, but that’s all gone now.
“So that had a huge impact on our finances because bills still have to be paid. The County Board still look for money and I know that was mentioned in this feature in your newspaper before,” he continued.
“The County Board Draw tickets have been renamed as a Club Development Draw, but in reality it’s a County Board levy, you can dress it up whatever way you want.
“But we have to fund it and unfortunately you are hitting the same people all the time, with the same people asking and that is difficult. Money is tight for a lot of people and given the lack of industry in our parish, the lack of business, it does make things all the more difficult.
“That’s where we have to commend our sponsors who give us a few pound regularly, they have to be commended for that.”

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