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Gaels girls electrify West

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West Clare Gaels in the All-Ireland ladies football club final last weekend. Photographs by John Kelly

Nobody in Ireland is unaware that the International Monetary Federation and the European Central Bank are the most talked about gig in town this week.

Since the bail out became official last Sunday evening, politicians, local and national, have whiled away their time leaping, albeit unsteadily, onto the high moral ground, seeking to spread but not accept any personal blame.
In the years, and possibly decades ahead, the mismanagement of the country’s economy will impact most upon those who had nothing to do with the creation of an ogre that the country now needs outside help to placate.
Teenagers who are in school or college today had better brush up on their grasp of international geography because the portents indicate that they’ll have to travel if they are to find work.
While the IMF wasn’t a talking point on the road to or back from Nenagh last Sunday, perhaps the template used by West Clare Gaels could be a useful reference point. Their level of honesty, organisation, ambition and talent, fused to create an entity whose ambit has reached beyond mere football.
Twenty nine players, along with their management team and club executive, have invested hours into bringing sporting kudos to their corner of the county.
Travel deep into West Clare and you will find a cohort of people who feel socially isolated and economically marginalised, perhaps believing that they have been forgotten.
West Clare Gaels achievement in uniting the county’s three most westerly parishes, winning a Clare senior title before adding a Munster intermediate and All-Ireland title to their collection shows what is achievable if the outlook is forward rather than inward looking.
Their panel is made up of several players who are still at school and some who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for more than a decade. Players based in Dublin and Tralee never fail to spend their weekends training in Kilkee or playing wherever West Clare Gaels are due, be it in Clare, Munster or even London. Maria Kelly arrived home from Australia this summer to play for her club and has since delayed her return down under as West Clare Gaels epic season slipped into winter.
As in any club team, the primary link bonding the players is very simply where they are from and their desire to represent their area on the sporting field. Aside from playing football together, players may not have much more in common. Yet training and playing together over the course of a year unites people of disparate ages as they strive to deliver for their club.
West Clare Gaels achievement last Sunday and since winning the Clare senior title last September, is a clear example of what can be achieved if a group of people work admirably towards a collective aim.
They could have used their geographical isolation as a reasonable excuse behind not competing in Clare let alone in Munster. Reaching the 2007 All-Ireland junior final would of course have let West Clare Gaels know that they had a skilled, capable group of players at their disposal. They also would have known that a glut of talented youngsters were about to break on to their team. Realising all of this is one thing; maximising those resources is the tricky part that West Clare Gaels have managed to pull off.
It is predicted that the economic crisis that has enveloped the country could shear Ireland of thousands of its educated youth. However, if communities could somehow come together, in the manner that West Clare Gaels feeder communities managed, that route might offer some hope, particularly to isolated regions.
While playing football and creating employment pose vastly different challenges, this group of footballers and their management have shown that if there’s a will there’s a way.
The alternative is to accept that the country will be stripped of thousands of people in their early 20s and that the region that West Clare Gaels are based in mightn’t be represented at all in five years time.
None of that will concern the players or their club for now though. They have done their bit this year in bringing excitement, colour and distinction to their community.
Yet perhaps their community leaders might take the lead from them and explore how best to make it happen economically for Kilkee and the peninsula settlements.
All that’s required is a mixture of flair, organisation, imagination and total commitment. Sounds a bit like what the Gaels girls have generated in riveting abundance.


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