Unfortunately despite the best efforts of the powers that be in Wicklow Football and the Wicklow GAA fans to make the GAA see sense, our home advantage has been stripped due to the lack of capacity of our picturesque Joule Park Aughrim home. Sadly the powers that be in the GAA do not quite seem to grasp the magnitude of this occasion for Wicklow GAA and being stripped of the right to host such a wonderful sporting occasion is a bitter pill to swallow. How many GAA people in Wicklow have ever seen or ever will see a Wicklow team get to pit themselves against one of the greatest GAA teams to ever play the game right here in Wicklow? The answer is very few if any. The young kids of Wicklow are the real losers in the GAA’s decision to remove home advantage from Wicklow and in turn Wicklow GAA’s future will also suffer a significant loss. No matter how you slice it the reality is that money talks in the ultimate decision to cite a capacity of 8,000 as the reason for the game being moved. Portlaoise is a fabulous venue and a credit to Laois but it’s not Laois with home advantage that are fixed to take on Dublin on the 27th of May, it’s Wicklow and it’s lowly 8,000 Capacity Joule Park Aughrim grounds.
Don’t get me wrong it would not be our wish to deprive proud Dublin supporters the opportunity to attend their teams opening championship fixture but on rare occasions like this i’m sure very few Dublin fans would mind missing out if it meant that a County like Wicklow would have their day in the sun against them.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here, even the most die hard Wicklow fan would not even dream we could turn over Dublin in Aughrim or Portlaoise, a Dublin team who will no doubt have many more fixtures to come in this Championship campaign so its obviously not for competitive advantage that we sought to keep our home advantage. However for Wicklow, history would suggest that we usually don’t get more than two championship games in a year and this is by far and away the biggest game we could ever have dreamt to host. This could have been such a magnificent occasion for Wicklow and it would be impossible to quantify the magnitude of the positive impact such an occasion would have had on the young children of Wicklow, getting to watch their fathers, uncles, brothers or club mates taking on the best team in the land in Aughrim. The buzz that engulfed the county when reigning All Ireland Club Champions St Vincent’s came to take on the mighty Rathnew in the Leinster Club Championship was unbelievable and that positivity could have been had once again on a whole new scale had we been allowed to host the Dubs. Club men and women and 100’s of children from many different clubs from all over Wicklow packed out Aughrim that day to watch some amazing players like Diarmuid Connolly take the field against equally amazing Rathnew men like Leighton Glynn and all were there roaring Rathnew on to a famous victory. Those great memories will be forever engrained in the minds of those kids who attended that day but a repeat of that has been taken away from us now.
Many questions now float around my mind with Aughrim’s 8,000 capacity not being sufficient for the game. Where will all that extra money go from having so many extra people attend this game? Will it go towards funding extra GAA coaches in Wicklow Schools and Wicklow GAA Clubs? Will it go to funding upgrades to Wicklow’s apparently insufficient County Grounds in Aughrim or maybe it will go to the struggling GAA clubs in Wicklow who haven’t been forced to fold already. Call me cynical but I doubt it will see outside the GAA Bank Accounts.
When you assess things as a whole the question that burns in strongly in my mind is: What are what are the GAA really doing to correct the gulf in facilities and standard between the likes of Wicklow and Dublin and do they really know or care about the overall health of the game in counties like Wicklow?
Well for any of you who may be unfamiliar with the current state of play for the GAA in County Wicklow then let me give you a little insight.
One proud Wicklow GAA club Fergal Ogs in Bray (Pop 32,600) has had to fold this year due to a lack of numbers in a such a large town. If this is not the most damning indictment of how little the GAA has penetrated in the ninth largest urban area in the Republic of Ireland the I don’t know what is!
A second club Coolboy, had to call an EGM last month to decide if they could find a way to save their club from going under too and luckily they managed to just about remain in existence.
Two clubs, Lacken and Kilbride have had to amalgamate to avoid going out of existence.
Between 15-20 Club League games in the county have taken place at 13/14 a side due to lack of numbers with some games ending with teams having only 12 players due to injuries and having started as 13 a side. A senior club team was unable to field due to lack of numbers and as much as it pains me to say it the club game is on its knees in the County.
But despite all this, a panel of Wicklow men train in rain, sleet and snow to put on the Blue and Gold Jersey of Wicklow every year just like their Dublin opponents do but that’s where the similarities end unfortunately with vastly different season goals and vastly different resources available to them. For my money it’s the Wicklow players and and players from the other low ranking counties like us who are the unsung heroes of the GAA as it is these lads who keep turning out for their counties while sacrificing their family lives and social lives knowing they have little or no chance of winning any silverware and with little if no support from the GAA Top Brass. Their reward for beating Offaly however was having the chance to play Dublin at home but the GAA has whipped that for heaven forbid any revenue would be lost. The evidence is there to prove the case that big games in the past at home for Wicklow and the hype that comes with them have had positive effects on Wicklow kids with our current crop of underage teams being arguably the strongest we have ever had despite our adult club game being on its last legs. Back in 2009 in the Micko era during our great qualifier run in Aughrim, the young kids, tv cameras and sponsorships were flooding in to Aughrim weekly. Hundreds of kids attended “Meet and Greets” with the Wicklow team in that time, two kids attended this years “Meet and Greet” prior to the Offaly game!
Every once in a while however we earn an opportunity like this one to play the Dubs in Aughrim which would effectively be our All Ireland Final and to have that taken away is heart-breaking. When you think of All Ireland Finals, the GAA people of counties like Wicklow would more often than not sell or give their ticket allocations to their friends or good GAA people of whatever Counties are lucky enough to make the All Ireland as what self respecting GAA fan would want to deprive someone the right to see their team play on the biggest stage. Effectively hosting Dublin in Aughrim is Wicklow’s version of an All Ireland Final and I can’t speak for Dublin fans but I think that deep down they wouldn’t begrudge us the day in Aughrim, albeit the loss of a few thousand tickets being available to them but they will have many more days ahead and the fans who did get a ticket would be warmly welcomed in Aughrim.
With Wicklow’s defeat of Offaly being a special moment for us all and the allure of playing the reigning All Ireland Champions on our own patch being the cherry on top the spirits were high in Wicklow. The loss of the latter is a hammer blow but not surprising when you have lived off the crumbs from the GAA’s top table for as long as Wicklow have. But to be a Wicklow GAA fan requires arguably more passion, patience and optimism than almost any other County when you are perennial strugglers with no share of the limelight or history of winning its hard to keep the faith or encourage kids to take up the game, but keep the faith we do, each and every year in the hope of a having a day in Aughrim like the 27th of May. Encouraging kids to take up and play GAA in counties like Dublin, Kerry, Mayo etc is made so much easier by these counties being in All Ireland contention and being showcased on tv, week in week out and with their long an illustrious histories of success making it a much easier sell. The GAA forgets that counties like Wicklow who get about two minutes a year airtime on the Sunday Game don’t have the success and stardom to call upon when encouraging kids to take up GAA like the top teams do and the biggest travesty in all of this is that they would remove the one big chance we do get to showcase the game and the cream of the GAA crop right here in Wicklow. Hosting the Dubs in Aughrim was Wicklow’s ultimate opportunity to showcase the game to the children of Wicklow but revenue is obviously more important to the GAA. With all that wonderful revenue would it not be better that instead of the GAA pushing counties to other venues for not having the facilities they deem necessary, why not invest in counties like Wicklow. With Wicklow being the county with the 16th largest population (142,332), any proper investment or positivity by the GAA has the potential for a great return financially which seems to be what makes the organisation tick! For Wicklow GAA People, we simply wanted the future reward of having our kids watch their players take on the best team in the land.
However every once in a while when we do manage to outperform the sum of of our parts and raise our heads above the parapet it seems the GAA are all too willing to have us smashed right back down again but maybe, just maybe before we are forgotten about again when the dust has settled in Portlaoise on the 27th, the GAA leadership might actually remember the GAA exists in County Wicklow and actually invest some of their Pot of Gold into the youth of County Wicklow!
Up The Garden💙💛