Dublin juggernaut rolls over the GAA at national level
AIG sponsorship coup will exaggerate the gap between Dubs and the rest, says Colm O'Rourke
The extent of Dublin's dominance of most things football is reflected in the multi-million-euro sponsorship deal with AIG. It is merely the financial outcome for a county whose organisation, marketing skill, support, image and playing resources are miles ahead of everyone else. What this deal will do is exaggerate an already widening gap between Dublin and the rest of the country.
While many of the weaker football counties are begging some local sponsor to throw in ten or 20 thousand to help keep the show on the road, Dublin operate in a different league. AIG don't just sponsor any old teams. They have had their name on the Manchester United jersey, they sponsored the Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and are the current sponsors of the All Blacks. They only get involved with teams with more than just local interest.
That may sound an exaggeration with Gaelic football but there are few teams who can fill an 80,000-capacity stadium on a regular basis in any sport in the world, and by the very nature of this deal it has elevated Dublin ahead of many professional teams in soccer and rugby both here and in Britain. In fact, there are very many big soccer teams in England who must be looking enviously at what the Dubs have pulled off.
What this also shows is that Dublin is bigger than the GAA at national level. If an international company had a choice between sponsoring the All-Ireland football championship and all the Dublin teams, then the Dubs win, euros down, every time. And while AIG took on the role this time, there were a couple of other serious companies willing to put down big money as well.
The smart investment in coaching, games development, player welfare and a thousand other things which help to oil the machine can continue because of this deal. A lot of other counties will have to start sprinting just to keep up. Even with all this cream there are still large areas of Dublin city where the penetration of football is poor.
Soccer is the dominant sport in almost all the working-class areas while football and hurling are the middle-class games. A big change in a generation. The GAA is now posh. This latest sponsorship can help to kick-start another attempt at wider colonisation.
One of the strange anomalies of sponsorship in every county is that a big sponsor at county level is worth little or nothing to clubs. They won't benefit from the gravy train. The sale of lotto tickets, Strictly Come Dancing functions, white-collar boxing, all sorts of draws and various other fundraising activities will continue to keep clubs' heads above water. And many are gasping for air. The financial problems in the wider community have filtered down to clubs. Some just cannot make their loan repayments and running clubs in dire financial straits must be a nightmare.
A lot of GAA members have enough money worries of their own without having their troubles increased by involvement with clubs which are basically insolvent. These sort of financial headaches turn off the best of people from getting involved at executive committee level in a lot of clubs. Football should be about games and fun, not balance sheets, constant fundraising and meetings with the bank.
Over the last few years I have made the point that Dublin are now so well-organised and as a result will dominate Leinster (it has happened already) and they will be involved at the latter end of the championship in most years. It is a numbers game in many ways but if the county with the most resources also has some of the smartest people running the show then they will move farther ahead of the chasing pack.
Of course Dublin won't win every All-Ireland but the elite few are so far ahead of the rest that the championship has lost any real meaning until it comes to August.
In the past I have argued that Dublin should be looking at some type of division to increase participation in underage teams at county level. This does not go down well with the diehards who take the view that Dublin should not be disadvantaged by their own success.
However, I still have not heard one credible argument against Dublin having multiple teams at underage level. It is hard to argue against the fact that the Dublin senior brand is too popular to change, yet Dublin should actively seek to give bigger numbers the opportunity to play in a county team from 14 to 18, or even to under 21. The ultimate beneficiary of this would be the Dublin senior team.
Take the Dublin minor team for example. How many hundreds of young lads would dearly love to get on this team and if they were in any other county would make the grade?
Yet by sheer weight of numbers they lose out. Dublin could have four minor teams and still be picking from bigger numbers than any other county.
For many young players the dream is to play for Dublin in Croke Park rather than Manchester United or the Leinster rugby team. That is a fantastic position for the GAA in Dublin to be in and the way to promote the game further is to make the dream happen for bigger numbers. If I were from Dublin, I would be saying the same thing, in fact I would be actively encouraging it.
It will happen some time but the running must come from within and nobody should underestimate the logistical exercise it would involve. And of course there are many within Dublin GAA circles who would feel that this would represent the thin edge of the deal with demands then for several teams at senior county level. That is inevitable too at some stage, maybe a long way down the line, in just the same way as it is hard to see some smaller counties surviving.
Yet I expect to see two Dublin minor teams playing each other in a Leinster final in my lifetime. That is if the provincial system survives and I think it would be much better for the GAA if it did not. Another rock turned over and all the slugs scurrying for cover. I will come back to that one in due course. In the meantime, Dublin rule the world and don't have to worry about loose change.