Salthill thriving in face of stiff competitionOctober 12, 2012 - 7:00am
WITH a population catchment of upwards of 15,000, Salthill/Knocknacarra GAA Club would be the envy of many rural clubs in County Galway, ravaged by emigration, who struggle to field teams.
Being an urban club does pose its own challenges, however, that country clubs don’t necessarily have to face to the same extent as a Galway City based outfit.
The strength of the structures of the local soccer club, Salthill Devon, and the lure of youngsters to rugby thanks to the increasingly fashionable franchise of Connacht Rugby, means that the likes of Salthill/Knocknacarra – and city clubs St Michael’s and St James’ – have to compete hard to attract, and more importantly retain, players to their games.
“It’s great that young people are all playing sport, any sport, but we’re trying to promote our games and there is intense competition for players. It is harder for us but days like Sunday where we have a team in the senior and minor final certainly helps to promote GAA here.
We’ve also got a very well organised executive committee,” says David Burke, club chairman, who is on the senior panel for Sunday.
Shamrock Rovers’ player Stephen O’Donnell won an underage All-Ireland Féile medal with Finian Hanley and Seán Armstrong and, had he not chosen the soccer path, would probably be playing this Sunday; ditto for Connacht’s Eoin Griffin, who also tasted GAA underage success with the club before choosing rugby – they are just two high profile examples of leakage of players away from GAA to other codes.
Founded in 1967 as St Kieran’s, the club was renamed Salthill GAA in the 1970s, and then Knocknacarra was added to the official title in the 1990s to reflect that many of the teams’ players were coming from that burgeoning suburb west of Salthill.
There are very real threats in terms of intense competition with rugby and soccer but the club is thriving at underage level where the likes of Tipperary hurling manager Éamon O’Shea and Galway football manager Alan Mulholland are involved in coaching, and it has two adult teams, senior and intermediate.
It is a sign of the strength in depth the Salthill club has at its disposal that six of last year’s panel, John Boylan, Peter Fahy, Stephen O’Reilly, Aonghus Callanan, Gearóid Armstrong and Michael O’Donnell, are all injured or abroad, yet the club has reached a county final.
Another problem faced by an urban side like Salthill – and Dublin GAA clubs have similar issues – with so much else going on in the area, attracting huge levels of support can be difficult. If a rural club in Connemara or North Galway was featuring this weekend, there wouldn’t be a sinner left in those villages for the match but Salthill has to work a little harder to pull the punters in even if there is a solid ‘hardcore’ fan base.
Burke explained that even though there is free entry for under 16s on Sunday, the club and its sponsor Nestor’s Supervalu printed 3,000 free entry coupons and distributed them throughout the schools in Salthill and Knocknacarra “to ensure there is as much interest as possible.”
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.