The colour and excitement of All-Ireland final day at Croke Park is one side of the GAA. Small rural clubs struggling to field a team is another.

Column: A GAA story a world away from the glamour and glitz of Croke Park

It happened (or if you look at it another way didn't happen) the same weekend as the All-Ireland SFC final when many GAA fans in Meath and beyond were focused on Croke Park and whether Sam would end up in Galway or Kerry.

The stadium rocked that day as the drama unfolded; the stands and corporate boxes were full of people enjoying the biggest occasion in Irish sport - and rightfully so - but a long way from the glitz of that weekend one small, rural club back in the Royal County were gappling with their own troubles, their own reality.

The club in question - Clonard - found themselves facing a terrible dilemma. Well, 'terrible' in a sporting context anyway.

You see Clonard were fixed to play St Brigid's in the Junior B FC that weekend. High summer, a championship game, it's invariably a big occasion for a club, particularly early in the campaign when ambitions and hopes have not yet hit the harsh rocks of reality.

So a championship game is a big deal but not this time. At least not for Clonard. They couldn't field a team. They had to concede the game to St Brigid's. "The numbers were not there, full stop," was how their club spokesman put it.

And the situation has got worse for them since then. This weekend Clonard were supposed to play Drumconrath in the Junior B FC but they also had to withdraw from that game effectively knocking themselves out of the championship.

The rule is if a club fails to fulfil two championship games they forfeit their place in that competition.

"That's us out of the championship unfortunately," was the reaction of one clubman.

Not been able to field for a league game is one thing. Missing a championship match because you haven't enough players available is something else - and Clonard, as the club spokesman indicated, didn't have enough players available that week, simple as.

One of the reasons, added the club spokesperson, was down to Covid laying low a number of their personnel. Another reason, as their club spokesman pointed out, was due to the old rule that if a player moves from a lower to a higher level he can't return to the lower grade.

It's an old bugbear for clubs and there have been calls at Co Board meetings to have that changed over the years - without any success so far. Clonard didn't want to take players from their second team operating in the Premer FC Division 9 and thus weaken that side - and understandably so. They had a semi-final to play in Division 9 and they wanted to focus on that.

In short they were left with a difficult choice - so they opted not to field in the Junior B, to forego a championship game in mid-summer. As it turned out however, the Premier FC Div 9 game against Carnaross didn't conclude either.

Surely some compromise can have been reached so that smaller, rural clubs - who could be speicfically picked out at the start of each year - would be allowed to move players from one level to another. It would have helped Clonard avoid the dilemma they found themselves in.

It's extraordinary too perhaps that Clonard didn't try to work something out with the Co Board and the opposition teams. Surely the Co Board and opponents would have been understanding and seek to help out Clonard in some way.

Not that Clonard are the only team who are short of numbers. Other rural outfits such as Kilmainham are not exactly inundated with players vying for places in their first team - and there isn't exactly a flood of young players coming through the system there either. Earlier this year there was talk of St Brigid's and Moylagh joining forces.

Some members of both clubs would be loath to lose their independence, their separateness; again understandably - and there is no guarantee that amalgamation would be a cure for all ills anyway.

Shortage of playing personnel does not only affect football clubs. Hurling outfits such as Rathmolyon do not have an abundance of players. Planning laws have meant people from such areas have had to move to towns like Trim, bringing with them potential players of the future. In recent times rural hurling teams such as Kilskyre and Moylagh have felt compelled to join forces. Rathmoylon and Boardsmill have joined up at minor grade.

There is some good news in all of this. Clonard have, according to their spokesman, a sizeable cohort of young players emerging up through the ranks so it's about riding out the current storm and moving on from there.

There will be better days ahead no doubt but right now the club is in something of a crisis.

The glitz and glamour of All-Ireland day is one thing. Dig deeper and you'll find another reality.