Wednesday 26 October 2016

Eugene McGee: Unlimited financial backing creating huge gulf between counties

Only a select few counties now have the resources to compete for an All-Ireland title

Published 28/09/2015 | 02:30

A delighted Jack McCaffrey with the Sam Maguire Cup following Dublin’s All-Ireland SFC final victory over Kerry
A delighted Jack McCaffrey with the Sam Maguire Cup following Dublin’s All-Ireland SFC final victory over Kerry

Nowhere on the GAA calendar do we get so much hyperbole, exaggeration and absence of common sense than in the week after the All-Ireland football final. Especially as happened last week when one team wins that final decisively against the holders of the Sam Maguire cup.

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Suddenly a whole army of football people, who usually would be considered fairly normal and sensible in their behaviour, seem to lose all sense of proportion and start making outlandish statements as if they were gospel truth.

'That Dublin team is better than the team of 1970s', 'If Jim Gavin stays on, this Dublin side will become the first to win five All-Irelands in a row', 'Sure, only for they blew the semi-final last year against Donegal wouldn't they be already on their way with a three-in-a-row'.

'That Kerry team is finished, too many lads should be retiring and they were lucky to win last year's final anyway'. 'Kerry will be a long time waiting for these minor teams to produce All-Ireland senior winners'.


And so on and on it goes as the 'experts' expound on their theories, sure in their own minds that what they saw on Sunday week is the new football bible. Having watched all this going on for decades I smile at their innocence.

Thankfully, Gaelic football at county level is not an exact science despite the best efforts of modern team managers. Nor does progress go in a straight line from one success to another.

The GAA is littered with counties that looked brilliant when winning an All-Ireland only to flop a year or two later.

The fact that only one county, Kerry, has managed to win two successive All-Irelands (in 2006/'07) since 1989 proves just how difficult it is to retain the title.

Indeed the fact that Kerry, Meath and Cork all retained their titles in that decade is interesting considering the failure of so many teams to achieve that in the past 25 years.

Since 1960 only seven counties have retained the Sam Maguire the following year, all just once in the period except Galway twice and Kerry of course being miles ahead as they held onto the 'canister' no fewer than seven times since 1960.

So wild talk about Dublin winning the next half dozen All-Irelands is just that - idle talk.

That said, I have met several knowledgeable football folk who are fearful that the All-Ireland championship will for the foreseeable future be dominated by no more than four or five counties such as Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, whenever a very good side emerges from Ulster and possibly Cork.

If this were to work out that way then the All-Ireland championship would suffer severely because bear in mind that 10 different counties have won the title in the past 25 years.

What scares many people is the gap in resources that exists between so many counties, resources of population and financial clout, serious dual football and hurling counties and, above all, a tradition for losing rather than winning in the All-Ireland championship.

In the past 50 years 19 counties have never reached the All-Ireland final and 11 of those never even won a provincial title.

All the developments that are said to have improved football in the past 20 years have made little or no impact on those 19 counties in All-Ireland terms. And as the rich counties get richer, it is inevitable that the poor ones will get relatively poorer.

It is long past time for a two-tier championship of 16 teams each where greatly increased resources could be invested, wisely, from Croke Park with the long-term aim of upgrading the quality of football and realistic targets of achievement set for even the weakest counties down the line.

Of course Dublin do look unbeatable at the present time but the value of this year's championship has to be questioned by comparison with other decades when we consider only a handful of counties are now serious contenders for the Sam Maguire Cup.

The number in contention has been steadily lessening all the time apart from the domination of Kerry and Dublin in the 1970s when they won eight All-Irelands in succession between them with Dublin getting three and Kerry five.

It is very naive for GAA people not to take into account the financial resources available to leading counties at the present time. Kerry, Dublin and Tyrone haven't won 12 of the last 15 All Irelands without access to unlimited financial backing from a variety sources.

There is no sign of that situation changing in the near future. Other counties may just grin and bear it with the odd exception like Donegal who seemed to have bags of money to spend on their often-exotic preparations under the Jim McGuinness era.

In today's society money usually is the biggest influence on affairs and the GAA championship is heading the same way.

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