Gaelic GamesThe Club Conundrum: GAA’s demographic divide

Steelstown Brian Ógs: Carving out a new niche in Derry city

‘Sometimes the feeling for Gaelic football in Derry city is underappreciated – especially its appeal to the girls’

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

Steelstown Brian Ógs (Derry)

Founded: 1987. Members: 1,000. Teams: 17.

Steelstown Brian Ógs was in the news last year when the Derry city club won the All-Ireland intermediate title. It’s an urban area long seen as a conspicuous weakness for the GAA – in the aftermath of the county’s All-Ireland victory 30 years ago, journalist Eamonn McCann wrote of “the rootedness of the GAA in rural areas and its strange, seeming irrelevance in Derry city”.

Brian Óg McKeever, an immensely promising footballer who died of cancer at 17 in 2008, had his name added to the club’s and the number five jersey retired in his honour.


Current chair Paul O’Hea, an All-Ireland medallist from Derry’s minor win in 2002, refers to the importance of female involvement: the club also has a successful women’s team.

“Sometimes the feeling for Gaelic football in Derry city is underappreciated – especially its appeal to the girls,” he says, pointing out that this family involvement gives the club an inclusive appeal.

“It’s misleading to focus on there being just one senior club in the city, because at underage the numbers are booming.”

“One thing we’re always grappling with in an urban context is space. We’ve 17 teams and one pitch, so managing that is very challenging. Our men’s senior team won the intermediate All-Ireland last year and they have to beg, steal or borrow to find pitches.”

The squeeze on facilities means that training through autumn and winter is extraordinarily curtailed. As well as Steelstown, there are four other GAA clubs in the city, including Na Magha, who are exclusively hurling/camogie. The Ulster Council has provided a fine facility in Creggan but that’s in the far end of town.

The catchment is varied, from well-off areas to others that top Northern Ireland’s deprivation indices, according to Ger Roarty, of the club’s development committee. Lack of private transport makes the need for local facilities all the more pressing, and distant venues all the harder to access.

The GAA struggles to get parity in terms of resources in what has traditionally been a soccer environment.

“In the Derry city council area,” according to O’Hea, “there are 46 pitches and only three allocated to Gaelic games despite comparable participation levels [45 per cent soccer, 37 per cent Gaelic games]. Indoor facilities are constantly block-booked for soccer.

“The report with those figures comes from 2018 and I’d say our participation has improved since then, particularly with the All-Ireland last year which dispelled that perception that GAA was the lesser of the sports in Derry.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times