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Thursday 14 November 2019

Tribes star urges GAA to act now

Cooney: 'Rural Ireland is on its last legs'

WARNING: St Thomas’ Conor Cooney is worried about the future of rural clubs. Pic: Sportsfile
WARNING: St Thomas’ Conor Cooney is worried about the future of rural clubs. Pic: Sportsfile

Conor Cooney has urged the GAA hierarchy to pump more resources into a rural Ireland that is "on its last legs".

The Galway hurler returns to Croke Park this Sunday chasing his second AIB All-Ireland club SHC title, six years after St Thomas' first scaled the summit.

But even though this year's decider involves two heavy hitters from a rural background - St Thomas' from Peterswell in south Galway and the iconic Ballyhale Shamrocks from Kilkenny - Cooney has fears about the bigger picture.

"We're a small club and we've some fantastic underage teams coming up," he said. "But it's a small window of opportunity to get the most out of it ... it was 2013 when we were here last and we might never get the chance again. So, look, we're going to grab it with both hands.

"But I think it's a wider problem maybe in the GAA itself. Particularly in rural Ireland, there's less and less facilities, there's less money being made available.

"There's so much strength in Dublin and I know the debate is ongoing about the support that Dublin get, or the funding Dublin get, and it's disproportionate.

"So, yeah, the GAA definitely has to look at putting more resources back into rural Ireland. And maybe, as a broader society, we need to look at supporting rural Ireland more because it's on its last legs really, the way things are going.

"You see more and more amalgamations throughout the county, throughout the country. I think it's an issue that needs to be dealt with and I think people are maybe turning their heads and ignoring it and hoping it will fix itself."

Cooney, 26, has seen the proof up close. "I think of local clubs near us. Kilbeacanty would be our next-door neighbours and they traditionally would be separate from Beagh - and they're amalgamated at underage level now," he explained.

"You've Mullagh and Kiltormer who traditionally would have a good rivalry - and they're amalgamated at underage."

Kiltormer are a cautionary example: All-Ireland club champions in 1992, they are now intermediate. "It's happening more and more," Cooney argued. "While rural clubs are in decline, urban clubs are maybe getting stronger and stronger.

"You hear about clubs in Dublin and they've tens or hundreds of teams at underage, and I suppose they're pulling from a pool that's almost the size of a small county and you wonder how sustainable it will be for clubs … we're lucky we've got a wave of lads, but to be consistently competing is very difficult."

Even on the work front, while most of the St Thomas' team are employed locally, Cooney has seen his own career as a primary school teacher impacted.

"I'm teaching in Ballinderreen," he pointed out. "We lost a post in our own school - I had been teaching in my own locality in Peterswell, and they changed the SEN model, how they allocate hours, and I actually lost a post so I had to be redeployed."

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