JOHN Corcoran is under no illusions about the challenges he will face as the new chairman of the Carbery GAA Divisional Board.
The well-respected St Mary’s clubman succeeded Declan Walsh as the board’s chairman at the annual convention held in Clonakilty last Saturday night, and he wasted no time in outlining his views on a number of pressing matters currently affecting the GAA, namely emigration, the recession and unemployment – three ingredients of a deadly cocktail that has left Ireland trying to pick itself off the floor.
But Corcoran – who works for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in Clonakilty – is not one to wallow and dwell in the harshness of modern-day Ireland.
Instead he wants to initiate change, only too aware that time stands still for nobody, not even the GAA.
It’s this desire that has seen him progress up through the ranks to finally take over the chair of the divisional board, having served his apprenticeship over the years, ever since he started attending board meetings back in the late 1970s.
To be exact, 1978 was the first year he attended meetings, when Seán Crowley was at the helm and since then he has served under seven chairmen, before he now takes the hotseat himself.
A board delegate for 35 years, Corcoran’s GAA CV would rival that of anyone, and amongst its many achievements are as follows:
• he is a former divisional board PRO and vice-chairman, the latter role he held up to this year before taking over as chairman. Natural evolution, in many ways.
• John served as a Cork senior football selector under Billy Morgan.
• the West Cork man managed the Carbery team to county championship glory in 2004.
• he is currently chairman of the Munster Third Level Colleges.
• Corcoran sits on the Munster Council.
And the list goes on, and on, and then there is all his work with his club, St Mary’s, so in many ways, this is his time.
‘It was always one of my ambitions to assume the top job, to be quite honest,’ Corcoran told The Southern Star this week.
‘I always felt that I had a contribution to make to the GAA, to promote it and to help in any way that I can to ensure that the GAA stays strong in West Cork. It’s my lifelong interest.
‘Over the years, we have been very lucky in West Cork with the calibre of people that have been at the helm. The GAA is embedded in every town in every parish in the division, and what I will be hoping to do is to continue the good work that has been done.
‘The experience that I have built up over the last 30 years in a variety of positions, as a delegate and as an officer, I have been involved in all levels of the association, and I think that will be invaluable in helping me promote the aims of the association.’
His passion and love for the GAA is unquestionable, as is his GAA knowledge and know-how, and he will need to draw on all of those sources of strength in his new role as chairman, at what is a challenging time for the GAA, not just in West Cork but right across the country.
‘For a division in rural Ireland, there are exciting times ahead certainly because the GAA is very strong in West Cork and it’s embedded in every parish in the division,’ Corcoran said.
‘We have 26 clubs who have all been successful over the years but given the current economic climate, the scourge of emigration and the unemployment situation, there are huge challenges out there for the division because we are a very rural division, interspersed with urban areas.
‘Urbanisation, as well, is posing a huge challenge to the association plus I also feel strongly about the way that planners have neglected rural Ireland, where it’s almost important for local people to get planning permission to build houses and to keep rural Ireland alive.’
Wasting no time in addressing the key issues that the GAA now faces, the new Carbery chairman is only too well aware of the player drain caused by emigration. He describes it as the ‘biggest hurdle’ that the association faces.
‘Emigration is the scourge of the GAA,’ he said.
‘It’s affecting the smallest unit to the biggest unit, the smallest club team to the biggest county board – nobody has been safe from this.
‘Down the line, clubs will be in trouble to field teams. We’ve seen this year already where clubs that always had second teams don’t have them anymore.
‘If that trend continues, I imagine you will see amalgamations of teams. They are becoming more prominent at underage level, and will continue to do so.’
But what can be done to fight off emigration? Corcoran outlines his thoughts.
‘We need to have practical initiatives like supporting our own industries in our own areas, supporting our own businesses, even small things like shopping locally, helping our local business people, tradesmen, in an effort to keep the local communities alive,’ he said.
‘Way back when the GAA was founded, one of its strengths was that it was a community-based organisation, and that spirit was never more wanted or needed than it is now.
‘The country is experiencing its worst recession of all time and while there will always be emigration, this time it’s one of necessity. We must deal with it the best way that we can, and take the practical steps to ensure that we limit the effects as much as possible.
‘It’s the biggest hurdle and obstacle that the GAA is facing, but that’s the same for every other sporting organisation.’
Another topical issue that Corcoran hopes to address is that of the fixtures’ chaos that every year sees club players almost lying idle for an entire summer, due to the inter-county championship calendar.
With inter-county fixtures taking precedence, club fixtures suffer, which means that the club player suffers; a situation that needs to change, according to Corcoran.
‘Look at both our junior finals this year that had to go to extra-time because of the time limits that were on us to provide teams for the county series, mainly due to the fact that our junior championships were held up due to county board fixtures being held up by inter-county activity. It’s a downward spiral,’ he said.
‘We seem to be front-loaded with games early in the year. Take us here in Carbery for example. You start your U21 championship and your junior leagues, and as well the opening round of the junior football, so in February, March and April there can be a huge amount of games being played off.
‘In fact, I did a study myself this past week, in preparation for convention, and it showed that by the end of June this year, over 60 per cent of our games had been played.
‘If you are starting in March, realistically, you are putting pressure on the clubs to start their preparations after Christmas. That has its own problems with the expense on clubs, getting fellas training and all the other competitions that fellas are involved in with schools and colleges.
‘In junior and U21, we played in excess of 300 games, in both league and championship, and with 60 per cent of those played by June. There was very little activity in July, August and September, so if you are going to cram in more inter-county fixtures and extend the championship it would have a huge effect on the already disjointed playing season.
‘In this year’s county senior football championship, there were gaps of 17, 18 weeks, which isn’t sustainable. That can’t be tolerated either.’
Corcoran, mindful of the current economic climate, is mindful of the need to protect clubs from further expenses, and he expressed his thoughts that clubs in the county would not be levied to fund the proposed redevelopment work at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
‘I hope that no levies will be imposed upon clubs to fund the renovation of Páirc Uí Chaoimh – of which I am totally in favour of – because a lot of clubs are at stretching point already,’ the chairman said.
‘It would be unfair if it was suggested that clubs would be levied in order to fund that particular project. I don’t think clubs can afford it.’
Staying with financial matters, there are other areas that Corcoran wants to look at, so as to help alleviate the financial strain clubs are feeling.
‘The affiliation fees and the insurance fees are exorbitant and they are very high. They are always due at the start of the year and that’s a huge financial outlay on each club at the start of the year,’ Corcoran said.
‘Again it is something that we have discussed at length, both at local level and county level, to see can there be some alleviation and reduction in these fees.
‘You are talking about clubs paying in excess of €4,000, €5,000, €6,000 or €7,000, depending on how many teams they have. In these times, that’s a lot of money.
‘There’s the question of rates on sports’ properties where there are bars, etc. That’s another area that must be looked at. I think local authorities could be more proactive because I don’t think they see the benefit of having healthy clubs within their areas.
‘Clubs provide a lot of the facilities, and where you have strong and healthy GAA clubs, the community by extension is much the better for it.’
Stressing that ‘the GAA in West Cork is in a hugely healthy state,’ Corcoran is enough of a realist to know that tough times lie ahead but he is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that the Carbery Divisional Board continues to go from strength to strength.
The final words are left to him: ‘I have no great fear for the clubs in West Cork. It will be there when we are all gone. We are just the keepers of the flame. Hopefully it will be in a better place for the next generation.’<
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