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Lacken facing an uncertain future

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ON HOME GROUND Lacken Sarsfields GAA club chairman Paddy Connor is pictured at the club’s grounds, the Joseph Loughney memorial pitch last summer. Pic: David Farrell Photography

North Mayo club failed to score in 50-point championship hammering

Michael Gallagher

ONLY the mighty Ballina Stephenites had more starters than Lacken Sarsfields in the Mayo team for the 1989 All-Ireland senior final. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) members of the famous North Mayo club will meet to consider their future after Sunday’s 50-point hammering in the opening round of this year’s Mayo Junior club championship.
Lacken suffered a humiliating 9-23 to 0-0 defeat at the hands of Kilmovee Shamrocks and it remains to be seen whether they will be able to fulfill their remaining fixtures.
They are due to travel to Achill for a second round game next Sunday.
The plight of Lacken GAA club, which was founded in 1903, mirrors the problems facing many clubs in rural Ireland, according to club chairman Paddy Connor.
“We’re in a bad way. We had only 16 lads togged out on Sunday and we picked up a number of injuries so it’s hard to see how we can continue,” he told The Mayo News last night (Monday). “We just haven’t enough players. It’s as simple as that. We have lads all around the world working and there’s only a handful at home here. There’s nothing to keep them here. There’s no jobs, there’s nothing.
“Everything we had is gone and the people aren’t here any more,” the well-known clubman explained before outlining the drain the adult team has experienced in the past two seasons.
“We saw this coming from a long way out, but the last 18 months has put the tin hat on it. “Three or four of our best lads emigrated and Tommy Clarke, who used to travel back for matches from England, is now on the London panel.
“Then the pandemic came and five or six lads who were near the end of their playing days packed it in. One or two more didn’t come back because they had vulnerable people at home and now we have four or five lads out injured. We couldn’t afford to lose anyone at any time but that’s a whole team we have lost in the past 18 months and it’s impossible to keep going.”
Lacken famously produced a number of players who wore the Green and Red of Mayo over the years, including the late Seamus Reilly who won an All Ireland minor title 50 years ago this week; Micheál Collins, the teak-tough defender from the late nineties, and Michael Fitzmaurice, the All-Ireland winning minor captain from 1985 who went on to play senior.
Paddy Irwin, who started every one of Mayo’s five games en route to the county’s last All-Ireland in 1951, was also a Lacken Sarsfields man while the McGarry brothers, PJ and Anthony, and many more all wore the green and red with pride at senior level.
Founded at the start of the last century the Lacken men won the Mayo senior championship in 1917. They enjoyed their best period in the 1970s and early ‘80s when they had enough men to field two adult teams and consistently competed at the top end of senior football.
The Sarsfields won the senior league in 1978/79 and contested the senior final of 1984 where they were beaten by their North-Mayo neighbours Knockmore,  
However, that was the high-point for the club perched on the edge of the Atlantic. Their playing numbers dropped dramatically in subsequent years with the loss of local employment leading to a dramatic fall in population.
In recent years the club struggled for numbers at adult level while the underage footballers play with the Naomh Padraig amalgamation, alongside youngsters from Killala, Ballycastle and Kilfian.
That has worked well and given young boys an opportunity to play competitive football, but the decline in the population of the area has continued, according to Paddy Connor.
“Numbers don’t lie,” he explained. “We had three schools here in the parish and now we have one. We had three pubs and now we have one. We had a post office and now we have none. What’s happening our club isn’t the fault of anyone involved.
“It’s not the fault of the lads who played on Sunday that the result was the way it was. We simply don’t have enough men to fill the jerseys and there’s no way around it.
“There’s a great passion for football here, just the same as anywhere else, young lads have the same dreams here as anywhere else. We just don’t have enough people and that’s not the fault of anyone in the club or the community.”
Tomorrow night (Wednesday) the club members will meet to consider their future 118 years after the club was founded. It promises to be a sombre and gathering.
“This was coming for a long time and Sunday’s match confirmed it,” said Paddy Connor. I sorely wish it was different, but it’s hard to see a future for the club in its current form right now.” 

 

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