Crucial to start sowing seeds on home soil
As published in The Irish Independent…
By John Power
You know when transfer deadline strikes in the English Premiership and you’re not really sure who is coming or going?
Well, Gaelic games in London feels like that at the moment… only everyone is coming.
Figures revealed this week demonstrate that 56 per cent of all transfers from Ireland in 2011 were to English clubs.
Try and attempt a head-count and you’ll be at it a while…there’s an 85 per cent increase in player numbers from 2010.
So thanks to emigration the GAA in England is in rude health right now. Or is it?
There’s no denying on the football side, clubs are awash with new players. Many are pretty handy too. Just the type you need to win a championship.
That’s why every club wants a piece of the action because it’s going to be the difference between success and failure, this season, next season, almost certainly the season after too.
But the flip side to the mass influx is further slowing of the type of necessary progress that produced past players like the Hehir brothers (Tara) and present ones like Liam Gavagan (Tir Chonaill Gaels).
All have won senior football championships in London having learned their trade in the capital.
But the arrival of so many from Ireland means clubs aren’t reliant on building from the bottom to achieve success. When so many arrive players at an important stage of development could find themselves pushed out.
Take the current silly season. Certain clubs have recruited up to 40 plus players.
Against stats like that, where’s the room for younger English born players to grow, develop and make their mark ala the Hehirs et al.
And I’m guessing some will give up after years of nurture because the reserve league, which should accommodate those with aspirations to play senior football, doesn’t get shown enough love or turn over enough games.
But what the hell, if your club wins the championship through clever recruitment, casualties can be written off as collateral damage.
It’s a bit of a fix because in London, like anywhere, winning the senior championship is everything.
It’s the noblest of short-term ambitions. It’s entirely understandable too. But it can only yield long-term gains if it inspires a future generation.
The trouble is too few clubs have grades at minor or U21. Typically, in London, there hasn’t been much future in that.
Take the current London champions, Fulham Irish, as the best example of success born out of clever recruitment rather than nurture. Between transfers and recruitment, the South Londoners could probably field three teams this season, all Irish born too.
Of course none of this really matters as long as the players continue to arrive ready to play. And show me a club, in any code, where the best players don’t get picked. It doesn’t happen. It shouldn’t happen.
But there is room for a duel approach and perseverance with development is the best route to future sustainability, and success.
Take Tir Chonnaill Gaels, a powerhouse of London football who have built a junior team comprising entirely of English born footballers.
In the senior squad, players like Gavin McEvoy and Liam Gavagan have already come through the ranks. There will be more too. The bedding in of names like Clive Mills, who played senior championship last season, and Philip Butler, will be reaffirmed in the coming months.
Like the best visions this is one that is long-sighted and fair.
Everyone has a platform to play and everyone can aspire to line out for the senior team if good enough. The important thing is the development of a club like Tir Chonnaill Gaels will not depend solely on emigration. But of course it will continue to be a big part…of a bigger picture.
Tir Chonnaill aren’t pioneers. In North London, St Kiernans have been investing in their reserve team and seven of last year’s senior side are English born. That group will return again this year. They have genuine championship aspirations in the coming seasons if they continue to progress like they have done. This collective is there greatest strength. So is it one they are starting to be hailed for.
There are further examples in senior teams like, Parnells and Round Towers; intermediate sides like Harlesden Harps and Heston Gaels, junior XVs like Dulwich Harps where English born players feature heavily.
That presence cannot be diluted now that players from Ireland are flooding in, looking for a platform to play? Development must be accommodated because recent history has shown that when the structure is right, English born players make the grade at senior level in London. Take Adrian Moyles from St Kiernans and David O’Sullivan from Parnells as just two examples from the 2011 championship.
No team has yet made the breakthrough by being so patient
However, should a club like St Kiernans retain that core and one day win a senior championship, building from within while adding from the outside, will be looked at and rewritten by clubs that base their success solely on recruitment.
It won’t all be about transient transfers then. It will be about trust, foresight, and the realization of success built on a deeper approach.
Thousands upon thousands of hours have been invested in the development of Gaelic games in Britain. Clubs and the county board must continue to make good on that investment, allowing it to blossom like it can and will.
Against the backdrop of welcome arrivals this long term resource needs care and consideration. Because you know what, it’s non-transferable.