Western Australia GAA back in action
By Cian O’Connell
Gaelic Games action made a welcome return in Western Australia last weekend.
It was a particularly satisfactory spell for all the volunteers in the various clubs, who remained positive throughout a turbulent and uncertain time.
That some of the first league fixtures were streamed live supplied another source of encouragement for WA GAA Secretary Tom Murphy.
Studio Orange, the Irish-Australian Chamber of Commerce, who sponsored the broadcast, McLoughlin's Butchers, SVG group, and Robbie O'Callaghan all assisted Western Australia GAA with the venture in perth.
“Our PRO Oisin McFadden put forward the idea of streaming the games,” Murphy explains. “The first thing to do was to source the streamer so we went with Studio Orange TV, a company based in Perth and Melbourne. They provided the camera work.
“The first game was between Morley Gaels and Western Shamrocks in our Mens League and the second game was between Southern District and St Finbarr's. We have close links with the Claddagh Association who are an organisation that look after Irish people in crisis. We work closely with them, we promote each other.
“We were hoping to do hurling and Ladies Football, but we are planning to do this again with our finals in September. Obviously there was a massive demand for it.”
That is most certainly the case for those involved on the ground in Western Australia. Murphy offers an interesting insight into how the Covid 19 pandemic has been dealt with in Perth.
“I don't think it will ever be normal again, but it is as normal as it is ever going to be in Western Australia,” Murphy says.
“Melbourne has been locked down for six weeks, you have five million people over there locked down. Perth now in Western Australia is nearly the safest place to be on the planet at the moment.
“I live about 20 minutes south of the city centre. What has happened over here is we are in Phase Four of our roadmap. So basically life has returned to normal with a couple of restrictions left in place such as large gatherings at sports stadiums.
“Aside from that the border has been shut so you can't leave the state. Nobody can come in unless they are granted an exemption, but they are very few and far between.
“We've only had about 120 cases in Western Australia with about nine or 10 deaths. They just went hard and early. Anybody who comes into the state is on a mandatory lockdown, you're picked up at the airport, you are put into a bus, you are brought to a hotel, and you are put into a room for 14 days. You aren't allowed to leave.
“Australia is a federation made up of a lot of states. Each state is responsible for what they are doing themselves. It has gone very well.
“Up to last week the rest of the states were encouraging Western Australia to open up its border, but things have gone haywire in Melbourne since Friday, so I think the government here have been proven correct just to keep the border closed.
“They were going to open it, but now they've said they aren't going to give a date because they are monitoring what is happening.”
A significant Irish community exists in Perth with Western Australia GAA founded 50 years ago in 1970. Emphasis is being placed on further developing the Junior Academy with the nine local senior clubs contributing to that project.
“We have about 800 members overall,” Murphy reveals. “We have senior football clubs, four hurling clubs and at minor board level you probably have about 60 teenage boys from 14 to 18.
“The Junior Academy would have about 120 between four and 13 year olds. We would have a big Irish community over here - we have a mix, they would either have grown up in Perth when their parents came out here and settled down.
“Then we have people who came out from Ireland before and after the recession. It has been going quite well. With the recession around 2008 and there was a big mining boom here around 2012 so we had a big influx of Irish people. That kept us going.
“We've had a good amount of players coming in this year with new registrations. People tend to follow where the work is.
“We have a pretty settled Irish population, who are here all of the time. At the moment we are doing a lot of work underage to try to keep the thing going. Age demographics are working against us. We can't rely on Irish people coming out here to try to fill the void.”
Last year a Western Australia team travelled to Ireland for the John West Féile offering an injection of momentum.
“The Féile was a great success for us,” Murphy admits. “Bringing the lads over was great, but they went back into their schools and all their friends were looking at this, a trip to Ireland and they got to play for their state.
“That trickled down to the Junior Academy, it was a way for them to keep their players. What happened before was we had a minor team that we sent to the Australasian Minor State Games, but there is a gap from getting kids out of the Junior Academy and getting to Under 15s level.
“You had a three year gap. So trying to keep the kids interested and ultimately keep a conveyor belt from the Junior Academy, minors, and up to seniors then. That is what we were doing. Underage is the future, not only here, but across Australia and the rest of the international units.”
It is why such time and energy is being invested in the Junior Academy. The benefits are becoming clear to see with Murphy hopeful that Gaelic Games will be enhanced in Perth.
The Jim Stynes Under 12 International Rules competition traditionally held in October is a worthwhile event which captures the imagination.
“The Gaelic Games Junior Academy of Western Australia are under GAA WA,” Murphy comments. “They were founded in 2012, the first ever Junior Academy in Western Australia.
“They have been back training since June 21 and they train for two hours on a Sunday morning. They do both hurling and Gaelic Football. They have their own coaches, but every Sunday they get coaches from each of the senior clubs, who will take them for hurling or football on a roster basis.
“The clubs are delegated to send three or four coaches to where they train at HBF Stadium in Joondalup. There is a lovely facility and the senior clubs have an involvement.
“It is good for the senior clubs who know what is going on in the Junior Academy. The Junior Academy has made great strides, they are up at around 120 kids.
“The Jim Stynes tournament is another way of exposing Australian kids to Gaelic Football. The whole of the GAA gets involved helping them as pitch managers and coaches.”
Such spirit and willingness to graft continues to serve WA GAA well and there is no shortage of ambition at Tom Bateman Reserve and RA Reserve when matches are held.
“It would be a dream that in future years to have some sort of an Irish community centre with a load of pitches so we could play hurling and football together,” Murphy acknowledges.
The evolving WA GAA story is worth monitoring.