COMMENT - Review Committee have provided the foundations, but process of rebuilding is up to everyone in Laois

Last night, the Laois GAA Strategy and Action Plan for 2018 to 2020 was launched in the Midlands Park Hotel.

It was published after an extensive interaction process with the clubs of Laois, as the committee collected the fears, complaints, praise and hopes of the majority, and distilled them into the 68 page document presented to the club delegates who attended the launch.

There are a number of points raised in the review which stand out more than others, notably the foundation of a new club in Portlaoise, the appointment of a full-time Coaching and Games Manager, and that as many as ten Laois GAA clubs could cease to exist in the next decade.

The review contains a lot of positive actions to be taken to arrest the decline of Laois GAA, but to this reporter at least, the most surprising thing about it, was that there was nothing particularly surprising in it.

That's not meant as a criticism, far from it, but the reason I say it is because the vast majority of us have know about the problems in Laois GAA for a long time, but haven't done anything about. We have been bystanders to a slow-motion car crash, passively watching it all unfold without trying to stop it.

The result of that inaction is that this review was commissioned, and what the committee have successfully done is hold a mirror up to Laois GAA. They have shown everyone the warts-and-all reality of where things stand.

Thankfully, they have come up with solutions too, and the tone of the book is certainly one of action needed, rather than apportioning blame. The proposals from the booklet would show that.

The population boom in Portlaoise can best be seen in the numbers attending primary and seconday schools, and the clubs in the parish can't be expected to cater for them all. That is especially the case when you consider none of the club grounds are within Portlaoise town, and there is surely a market for a GAA club that children can walk to.

The overhaul of the Coaching and Games structures is also welcome, and needed. Results would show that whatever we were doing wasn't working, and any effort to maximise the time and effort people put into this area is essential, as it offers the only meaningful route to success for Laois.

A huge amount of work lies ahead, the most difficult of which will likely prove sourcing the volunteers needed to keep Laois on track to meet the targets set out in the review. It has never been harder to get people to serve on club committees, or on the county board.

The same goes for getting coaches at club level, or indeed for any meaningful position which requires a personal sacrifice and time commitment.

We live in an age of increased working hours, long commutes and not knowing your neighbour. Social media means you can keep up to date with your friends without ever leaving your home. The role of the GAA club as the hub of social activity is no longer enshrined.

The GAA now needs people as much, or probably more, than people need the GAA.

So, for Laois, the big challenge is to generate the interest among people to drive this review forward, at a time when interest in all things Laois GAA related appears to be at its lowest ebb. "I haven't time" needs to be replaced with "How can I help?", and the imagination and desire of the Laois GAA public needs to be inspired, and then harnessed.

That is every bit as difficult as starting a GAA club from scratch, or overhauling an under-performing Coaching and Games structure. However, without a widespread commitment to action Laois will remain rooted in place, while the association and those around us stride forward at a pace which consigns us to the background, forever.

We know where we are now, we know what we need to do, and we know where we need to go.

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