Tuesday 22 August 2017

Colm O'Rourke: Let's make the cake bigger for every county rather than reducing Dublin's share

The All-Ireland championship is set for a major revamp
The All-Ireland championship is set for a major revamp
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

There must have been audible gasps in most counties a few weeks ago when the games development grant distribution table was published by the GAA. How could Dublin be getting almost a million and half when most other counties got less than €50,000?

This looks like Gordon Gekko has taken over the GAA - remember his famous line in Wall Street, that "greed is good"? Has the great social democracy, the GAA, been taken over by the capitalist culture?

Like everything else in the GAA, finding the real answer involves a bit of digging. Or, to put it another way, it could be like the tourist getting advice from the Galway farmer that if he was going to where the tourist was planning to go he would not start from here. The same with money, the GAA at central level and Dublin - you have to start somewhere else.

It is over a decade since the perception was that Dublin were in trouble. To cut to the chase, there was a special addition to their funding from the Irish Sports Council which has yielded about €16m over that period of time. Has it worked? From a time in the early noughties when Dublin were not winning All-Irelands at any grade, there is a well-oiled machine on the march at every level. Beat the Dubs at minor, under 21 or senior and you will probably be near the top.

The wheels keep turning because success leads to more sponsorship and even greater investment. The numbers playing at all ages grows and the snowball running down the hill gets bigger.

Other counties cannot just rely on some rebalancing of these central funds to save them or make them more competitive. What Dublin have done is made the case for the big investment and then spent the money wisely and well. There are somewhere in the region of 70 full-time coaches in Dublin. Some are hired directly by the county board, some by clubs, others in a joint approach by the county board and clubs where each pay half the salary. The emphasis seems to be on primary schools and then the coaches work in the local club as well.

The idea has, first of all, been to get young people interested, especially where there was no tradition of the GAA in the family, build a loyalty to the local club and then ensure that the volunteers on the ground have the best coaching skill-set provided to them by the full-time coach.

It works in Dublin as the number of members has clearly gone through the roof in that time, but the whole thing is still propped up by the thousands of club mentors who are glad to undertake the work of creating the next generation of players. These people are the opposite of Gordon Gekko - greed is not good.

Bernard Brogan pictured at an AIG Insurance Summer Splash event
Bernard Brogan pictured at an AIG Insurance Summer Splash event

This model can be replicated in any county so while some rebalancing of money may be needed, the emphasis in this debate must be on making the cake bigger rather than substantially reducing Dublin's share.

A lot of counties have made a bit of noise on this topic and there is logic to the argument which says that Dublin, with the biggest resources already, will only become more dominant if they get almost half the money in the country available for games development.

There is also a need for counties to do a bit of self-help. Identify the biggest and most profitable companies and put a case to them for helping to fund coaching at underage level.

Many have a social conscience and would be willing to at least part-fund a coach. It might cost them less than €10,000 as they could write it off against tax. Get the local authority on board, the GAA provide the sort of leisure facilities that local councils put in place in every other part of Europe.

Clubs, too, might have to look at spending up to €15,000 on a coach, or perhaps in more rural areas a few clubs could join together for this purpose. The short-term pain could be paid off with more young members, greater interest from parents and future vibrancy.

Anyway, the point is that counties just can't whinge about Dublin's share without doing something about it themselves. In saying that, sense must prevail. In Leinster, two counties who should be giving Dublin a bit of hardship on an ongoing basis are Kildare and Meath. In the latest figures, both got less than €50,000, which is way off what it should be on a pro rata basis.

All sponsors now want to get on the great Dublin locomotive so the Leinster Council must provide funds to other counties and rescue their championship from being a constant one-horse race.

This is a long-term project but the success that Dublin have had shows that investment by the central authority, provincial councils and county boards in good coaches does yield results.

Dublin jersey launch
Dublin jersey launch

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