Tuesday 6 December 2016

Eugene McGee: Big spenders have GAA playing 'shamateur' game

Published 21/12/2015 | 02:30

The true amateur spirit of the GAA is perfectly captured in this picture from Sportsfile’s ‘Season of Sundays’, which is now on sale in all good bookshops, as tea lady Maureen Diffley and some ‘Maors’ enjoy a cuppa before this year’s Leitrim v Galway Connacht SFC quarter-final in Carrick-on-Shannon
The true amateur spirit of the GAA is perfectly captured in this picture from Sportsfile’s ‘Season of Sundays’, which is now on sale in all good bookshops, as tea lady Maureen Diffley and some ‘Maors’ enjoy a cuppa before this year’s Leitrim v Galway Connacht SFC quarter-final in Carrick-on-Shannon

In the Concise Oxford Dictionary, an amateur is defined as "A person who engages in a pursuit, especially in a sport, on an unpaid basis".

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The GAA, as we know, has often claimed that it is the largest amateur sports organisation in the world - something that is very difficult to prove or disprove as regards the size of the organisation.

But on the basis of that criterion of the word amateur, the GAA is probably on much shakier ground nowadays.

Skimming through reports from the various county conventions this last couple of weeks would indicate that there is very little amateurism left in most of the 32 counties these days.

Several county boards are spending close to €1m on preparing their teams and very few are devoting less than €500,000 to the same purpose.

When a lot of counties lost the run of themselves in the past five years as austerity bit hard, Croke Park had to intervene directly to prevent some of them going bust and HQ initiated much tighter controls over finance in all counties.

For example, turnstiles were made compulsory at all county grounds to ensure accurate gate receipts to prevent counties creaming off a percentage of the gates from National League games for themselves before forwarding the remainder to Croke Park for the pool that is shared among all counties at the end of the season.

A glance at some team financing is very interesting. In Kerry, for example, team holidays and medals cost €355,177, while the physio and medical bill was a staggering €194,292.

Even in Westmeath, a much smaller county, medical costs amounted to €107,796.

By contrast, in neighbouring Longford the physio and medical bill was only €37,647 - they are a much hardier race of people in Longford, it seems!

Under the heading 'team training expenses', Kerry recorded a figure of €752,493, not including that medical and physio figure, for all of their football and hurling teams.

There was a fascinating item on the Westmeath accounts called 'back-up staff', including nutritionists, psychologists etc, amounting to €63,214.

The Westmeath secretary stated that it cost between €50,000 and €70,000 per month to keep their county teams in training.

One astonishing figure to emerge from the Westmeath accounts is that they received princely sum of €1,800 from the Leinster Council for playing in the provincial football final against Dublin.

This is unbelievable considering that the gate receipts must have been the guts of a €1m or maybe more. The amateur ethos which the GAA professes to uphold often proves costly as regards the use, and sometimes abuse, of money.

I mentioned last week about the inefficient use of major finance over the years regarding the location of large stadiums about which I received many responses in support. But there are more basic forms of money-wasting in the GAA.

Clare secretary Pat Fitzgerald drew attention to some claims made under the GAA's excellent insurance scheme.

He claimed to have proof that two players made claims even though they were actually injured playing soccer and rugby.

In Leitrim, it was stated that the county board has had to write off over €9,000 for unpaid All-Ireland tickets in the past few years.

Tipperary was another county to spend over €1,000,000 on preparing their county teams in 2015. Unusually, football teams needed a big share this year as their minors and U-21s reached All-Ireland finals as well as their minor hurlers.

Tipp treasurer Eamon Buckley said that some cutting back would be required for next year and he mentioned specifically the question of team panels.

Team panels nowadays can run to 35 or sometimes even 40 players at both county and club level. It used to be a maximum of 25 for decades until county managers demanded 30 players to facilitate 15-a-side training games.

Now the figure has largely gone out of control which is a huge factor in the astronomical costs for nearly all county boards.

The cost of maintaining 10 or more extra players is huge when you consider the costs of meals after training, transport, hotel accommodation and medical expenses. This is one of the areas that GAA units seem unable or unwilling to control. Which is why some cynics call it shamateurism.

The idea of having 35 players at every game is pure nonsense and even more so when it applies to club competitions. Yet I have seen dozens of team photos in local newspapers in recent months with panels of up to 40 players.

Money is deciding more and more aspects of GAA games than ever before. But how that money is used will make or break many GAA units in the coming years.

Sports survey findings complete nonsense

I have almost always ignored surveys and the one called 'Sport and Sponsorship Sentiment Index 2015' published last week confirmed my belief that they are generally rubbish.

It professed to analyse the influence of various sports in Ireland, but did not include any mention of Gaelic games.

Yet again, the myth that soccer is Ireland's favourite sport at 21pc is peddled, with Gaelic games at only 16pc. Absolute nonsense!

And in the list of 'Most Admired Athletes in Ireland', no Gaelic footballer gets in at all, while Henry Shefflin, who didn't play for Kilkenny in 2015, is the most admired hurler at a meagre 3pc.

Then, there is the 'Irish Sports Team of the Year' category. The Irish men's rugby team tops the list at 26pc, with Dublin's footballers at 6pc and Kilkenny's hurlers at 5pc.

I stopped reading at that stage and started laughing.

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