Gaelic GamesThe Club Conundrum: GAA’s demographic divide

Westport GAA: Reworking structures enabled club’s spectacular revival

‘There’s a lot of moving parts and you have to work hard to get every section working in tandem together’

Both rural and urban GAA clubs face increasing challenges as demographics in Ireland change. This is one of a series of articles exploring the issues clubs face and what they are doing to adapt

Westport (Mayo)

Founded: 1936. Members: 1,445. Teams: 43.

It’s not so long ago that Westport found themselves unable to field a team in the Mayo minor championship. Mad as that sounds now, with them just having won their first senior county title in 2022, you only have to go back to 2008 to find the numbers so low and the structures in the club so ragtag that the year came and went without Westport being able to cobble a side together. The third biggest town in Mayo, no minor team. How?

“Numbers are never a problem if you’re doing your stuff properly,” says outgoing chairman Charlie Lambert. “Basically, we didn’t have our structures right. The population of the catchment area around Westport is 9,200 and we have 12 primary schools in the area. But it was all a bit ad hoc and we had problems with drop-off and by the time we got to minor we had lost too many.


“Things like you might have a couple of good under-12s and the under-14 manager would go looking for them to play and that would be repeated all the way up along. And the result was, you’d burn out the good players and as well as that you’d have lads that were older than them going to training but seeing these lads come in and play ahead of them. So you’d lose them as well. That’s just one example.

“But overall, once we got better structures in we started to get better. We has a strategic plan for 2012-2017 and then got to work on another. On top of that, you had Mayo coming through then and playing in Croke Park every year. And you had Lee Keegan representing the club. And lots and lots of work by volunteers, of course.”

Westport’s rise over the past decade has brought its own challenges. Like most urban clubs, they’re stuck for space. They have a new pitch on the way in September and they’re relying on help from local schools a bit in the meantime. The edgiest couple of hours in the club every year is the pitch allocation meeting where football (men and women), hurling, camogie and underage all state their case and fight their corner.

“The challenge in a place like Westport is getting the One Club model to work,” says Lambert. “There’s a lot of moving parts and you have to work hard to get every section working in tandem together. Everyone is using the facilities, which is a great way to be, but that brings wear and tear, it brings maintenance costs, it brings energy costs and insurance and all the rest of it. The challenge is to keep it going and not fall back to where we were.”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times