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Local soccer clubs commiting financial suicide

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Date Published: {J}

THE League of Ireland season resumes this weekend, but outside the players, club officials and the dwindling number of diehard fans, does anyone really care? Soccer in this country is on its knees, both financially and in terms of public appeal, and the outlook remains bleak. Near-empty terraces, supporter apathy, counter attractions and harsh economic times are slowly eroding the game’s popularity.

Cork City’s recent demise, after more off-field drama than a year’s series of Coronation Street, underlines the financial hardship stalking clubs at present. Players all over the country are on minimal wages – when they do eventually get paid – and, yet, we are facing the quite extraordinary situation where three Galway City teams within a few miles of each other are about to kick off their League of Ireland campaigns.

There is nothing wrong with ambition and though it must be put on record that both Salthill Devon and Mervue United have earned their right to participate in the First Division, the bottom line is that both clubs are dicing with financial suicide. Mervue reportedly didn’t pay any of their playing staff in their first campaign at this level last season, but the running of the team probably still didn’t fall far short of €100,000.

Just like Salthill, the Mervue club is a dynamic institution and both have excellent facilities as well as a deserved reputation for nurturing schoolboy talent. But the question now has to be asked are these clubs now stepping out of their financial league . . . and for what? Take Mervue, for instance, they had to rent Terryland Park off the Galway FA for their home games last season and, reportedly, they struggled to get even 100 fans at most of those fixtures.

After the initial excitement wears off in Salthill, they too will feel the brunt of the fans indifference. Accessibility to their grounds at Drom is a major drawback as well – travelling on narrow bumpy roads to the venue is a real turn off for those of a doubtful loyalty – and the pitch is also completely exposed to the elements. First Division football comes with a hefty price tag and, eventually, Salthill and Mervue, will have to lower their sights in the interests of keeping the things going that made them so successful in a local context in the first place. Prestige doesn’t pay the bills.

Terryland Park is one of the finest venues in the League of Ireland, but throughout last season, Galway United fought a losing battle to get the fans to come through the turnstiles. All the recent managerial upheaval at the club hasn’t helped, but Nick Leeson and company have tightened the purse strings which has helped to compensate partially for the small crowds. Will 2010 be any better? I have my doubts.

Of course, positive results on the field would make a difference, but when United line out for their first home game of the campaign against Bray Wanderers on Friday week, they will be fielding nearly an unrecognisable outfit as short-term player contracts is resulting in an unprecedented traffic flow between clubs. Supporters like to build up a rapport with their team, but if players are coming and going like flies around a cow’s dumpings, that prospect tends to get short shrift.

 

United didn’t even have a manager up to a few weeks ago, never mind a settled squad which highlights the current fluidity in the League of Ireland. Sean Connor has been working diligently in assembling his playing staff, but with only a few survivors from last year, fans attending the upcoming game against Bray will be entitled to ask:

Who are they?

Thomas Heary, Bee Ami, Jamie McKenzie, James Creaney, Tom King, Karl Sheppard and Gary Curran are some of the new faces who will be around this season, but arguably the biggest loyalty they could possibly have to United at this juncture is that the club offered them the best contract going. These are difficult times for all sports – just over 4,000 were in Pearse Stadium last Sunday for the county hurlers’ first home game in nearly 10 months – and while, on one hand, it should be a source of celebration that Galway has as many League of Ireland clubs as Waterford, Limerick and Sligo put together, the reality is that three rather big fish are trying to survive in one very small pond

 

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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