The problem with being a cantankerous cynical columnist is being proved right. Despite what you might think there is no sense of joy when it happens. In fact, just a feeling of deflation and disappointment. Like you had opened a Wonka Bar, but you weren’t met with any gleam. The child inside is still a little crushed.
For a long number of years now I have been writing about the growing issue of elitism, coupled with the disconnect between those that run the GAA and a significant proportion of its members.
The disdain shown towards club players and the never ending and ever-increasing calls for a tiered championship have been two issues this column has flagged.
There is a third issue however, the elephant in the room so to speak. Funding. We have skirted the elephant to date. Time to grab it by the trunk.
16.2m euros. That is how much Dublin received between 2007 and 2017 in Games Development Funding. They top the pile. Cork come in second and Fermanagh rock bottom. The difference between Dublin and Cork is 15.5m euros. The difference between Cork and Fermanagh is less than 600,000 euros.
Let that sink in for a moment. 15.5m euros in difference between first and second. Less than 600,000 euros between second and 32nd.
If those figures are not stark enough there is another way of demonstrating it. 42 per cent of Games Development Funding between 2007 and 2017 went to one county. 31 counties shared the other 58 per cent.
At this point it is important to point out a few facts. The GAA changed their policy towards Dublin in the early 2000s. Increased funding began in 2004. The rationale was that a different plan was needed for the capital than other parts of the country. At the time this was correct and right.
It is also important to point out that highlighting the stark differences in funding is not an attempt to bash Dublin. So, let’s be clear before going any further. Dublin have the best manager in the game. They are phenomenally committed as a group. Their players are very talented, work very hard and most important of all, are completely selfless and humble when is comes to their individual role within the group. They are the greatest team, by some distance, that this column has ever seen.
Where we must be honest however, is to say that the increased funding received has played a role in that success. Is it the determining factor? No. Is it a mighty help to proceedings? Of course it is.
The standard of coaching in Dublin is tremendous. The best in the country. Many clubs have paid coaches, with Croke Park picking up 50 per cent of the bill. It stands to reason that with quality coaches in clubs and schools the standards have risen. It also stands to reason that a rising tide lifts all boats. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that these high-quality paid coaches lead to better coaching at volunteer level.
It is important to say this, because, those who want to refuse the influence of money on Dublin’s success will say that other counties spend more on their senior inter county teams than Dublin. But this is the most opaque of views. If structures and standards of coaching at school and club level are so much better in Dublin than other counties does it not stand to reason that their players will be better prepared for senior inter county football? I would have thought that was fairly obvious.
Also, costs of other counties on non performance related expenses, such as travelling costs for players, is much greater than Dublin’s. This means the Dubs can focus the vast majority of their expenditure on making their players better rather than filling their cars with petrol. But subtle facts such as these are often lost in the outrage.
Another argument often made to militate the influence of coaching funding is the fact that Kerry have won five in a row minor titles and Dublin have not. People say that Dublin’s success at senior level is cyclical and their lack of success at minor level will prove this. I don’t buy that. The average age per year for the Dublin starting 15 at senior level is coming down. Far from getting older, they are getting younger as a group, which means they are more successful than anyone else at integrating young inexperienced players into the group.
As well this additional coaching money we also have the immense commercial advantage that Dublin has over many counties. They don’t need to fundraise in the same manner as other counties. Their sponsorship deals are incredibly strong. There is no way for most counties to compete with this.
But, let’s leave Dublin aside however and deal with the notion that other county boards and clubs don’t have a plan in place and that’s why funding is not given. The implication of course is that we are clueless out in the sticks.
In 2015 Fermanagh asked for a review to be held into football within the county. We asked that that review be done by someone from outside our county. As a result Micheal Martin, a Wexford native, and a GAA man of huge experience who has been chair of the Games Development Committee in Croke Park, carried out a review. In it he stated that we needed to employ two further coaches and that we should “seek funding from sponsors and from Ulster Council/Croke Park.”
When funding was sought Croke Park said no.
That is the real crux of the problem. It is not really the fact that Dublin have received all that money, but rather when other counties have come with reasonable, modest and well thought out requests they have been turned down. That is the travesty. The same discerning eye that was placed on Dublin in the early 2000s, to identify a problem and help solve it, needs to be turned to other counties.
Fermanagh doesn’t require the same amount of money as Dublin. That would be ridiculous. But what we need is an acceptance from those that run our games that we have specific handicaps unique to us.
It is not our fault we have the smallest pick in Ireland in real terms and only 20 clubs. And nor is it our fault that we have only a finite number of fund raising streams. We should not be penalised for these uncontrollables. And when we do have a clear cut plan for the way forward, the GAA should treat us the same as Dublin, and give us the help we need.
If they don’t it is more proof that we are existing in an ‘Amimal Farm’ scenario: ‘All animals are equal. Some animals are more equal than others.’