Wednesday 20 September 2017

Leinster plan aims to close widening gap with Dublin

Ex-president O'Neill to spearhead commuter belt project

Director general Páraic Duffy and president Aogán Ó Fearghail at the official opening of the GAA National Games Development Centre in Abbotstown, which is to become a hub for counties benefitting from Leinster’s proposed €1.5m investment in coaching. Picture: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Director general Páraic Duffy and president Aogán Ó Fearghail at the official opening of the GAA National Games Development Centre in Abbotstown, which is to become a hub for counties benefitting from Leinster’s proposed €1.5m investment in coaching. Picture: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Leinster Council chairman John Horan didn't try to portray the motive for a €1.5m investment in coaching and games development into the four counties in closest proximity to Dublin as anything other than what it is.

For sure it's a renewed drive to chase the areas of greatest percentage population, outside of the four administrative centres in the capital, to create a better Gaelic games footprint for the future.

But it is also a direct response to the rise of Dublin GAA over the last decade which has incorporated success in 11 of the last 12 Leinster senior championships and with Kildare and Meath arguably best placed to bridge that gap, they are central to this plan.

Dublin, for so long the financial driver of the province because of the gates their footballers generate, are now so successful that it may be having an adverse impact on attendances.

Leinster's combined attendances for their football and hurling championships were down to around 193,500 this year from over 250,000 in 2015 with less than 100,000 watching Dublin's three games against Laois, Meath and Westmeath.

Admittedly the Laois game was a stand alone fixture in Nowlan Park while the Meath game was on the same day that Ireland played France in Euro 2016. But the alarm bells have been ringing for some time nonetheless.

"We're not going around with our heads in the sand. We need a marketable product to keep sponsors going and we need a marketable product to get supporters to come.

Address

"You can't have those big gaps that exist between Dublin and the rest. This is an attempt to address that," said Horan.

The GAA at central level have pledged €500,000 per year for an initial three years to fund coaching and games development projects in four counties, Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.

It will at least double and probably treble the number of games promotion officers in each of the counties when the full extent of the project is rolled out.

But it won't become a long-term investment unless there is a significant yield.

The money and what it is intended for will help to start addressing the imbalance that the GAA have acknowledged there is between Dublin and the rest of the country.

Because of the deal struck in 2005 between the GAA and the Irish Sports Council who committed €1m per year to growing participation levels in the capital, Dublin's share of the central coaching and games development grants have been more than the rest of the counties combined in recent years.

But that hasn't always painted the full picture as the other 11 Leinster counties have taken the majority of their provincial council's budget in this field with only a fraction of that going Dublin's way.

Dublin County Board, through its clubs, fund half the cost of their coaching staff and the model has worked well with a huge increase in participation numbers, the original aim of the 2005 deal.

The Irish Sports Council money has decreased over the years, down to €640,000 from the €1.46m that the GAA provided for coaching to Dublin in 2015.

For some time now the GAA authorities have been looking at addressing the funding imbalance and a segment of the national finance committee has been exploring this.

The latest Census figures show that, after Fingal, Meath and Kildare have the greatest percentage acceleration in population in line with the previous Census in 2011.

Meath recorded a rise of 5.9 per cent with Kildare, taking the numbers to 194,942 with Kildare jumping 5.6 per cent to 222,130.

In parts of both counties situated close to the Dublin area the percentage rise in considerably higher.

Meath plans to use the extra resources are understood to be at an advanced stage.

Currently there are two full-time and four part-time coaches but this could expand to between 10 and12 full-times coaches in the coming months. Kildare will also be in a position to target those type of numbers.

Some clubs, particularly in the strongest areas of growth in south Meath and north-east Kildare will have almost exclusive access to a coach but will help to fund this, Horan confirmed.

Selector

Former Meath footballer and selector/coach Sean Kelly is to take up a part-time role as a director of coaching.

In Kildare former Allstar John Doyle has already taken up a role as their Community Development and Participation Officer with responsibility for the implementation of specific games development policies and Kildare Local Sports Partnership programmes. Kildare County Council are helping to fund this.

Horan says there are ongoing projects and plans for the rest of the province and believes the extensive use of the GAA's national development centre in Abbotstown by so many counties reflects that.

"Every one thought Abbotstown would be Dublin's home, but if anyone looked at the activity out there at the moment, it's just huge in the context of Leinster running games there, getting clubs there, getting development squads there to try and raise the standard."

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