Only one winner in €12m Campus lottery
Dublin will benefit from Abbotstown facility but money would have been better spent elsewhere
Let's face it, the GAA's new facilities at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown are second to none in any sport in this country. Perfectly manicured grass pitches, a very safe artificial surface, beautiful dressing rooms, the ultimate in splendour.
But there is something about this project that is not quite right. While the GAA president and ard-stiúrthóir may be factually correct when they reassured us all that these new facilities are available to every club and county in Ireland, do they seriously believe, or does anyone else believe for that matter, that any club or county outside of Dublin will be in a position financially or practically to use this facility for anything but an occasional or once-off basis?
The bottom line is that the GAA have invested €12m in a new state-of-the-art facility located in Abbotstown in the heart of Dublin 15 and it will be the principal training facility for Dublin GAA for the foreseeable future.
Who could blame Dublin? The county board chairman has already confirmed that Dublin envisage their underage teams and development squads using it because of a dearth of facilities for these squads across the city. Despite statements to the contrary, it is only a question of time before the senior hurling, camogie and ladies' football teams will also move there. The senior football team will move there in time when paranoia over who might be watching them fades.
Meanwhile, small GAA clubs throughout the country have been levied by cash-strapped county boards to help fund the development of centres of excellence while Dublin, having failed to develop any such centre of their own, now inherit a magnificent facility in their own back garden.
Inappropriately or not, Dublin GAA have been allowed to fund the gym facilities at the campus. The specification for the gym fit-out is provided by Dublin's full-time performance coach, Bryan Cullen. Are Croke Park trying to convince us that in the event that another county or club wishes to use this gym facility on a once-off or short-term basis that the management team will ask Dublin to step aside to allow the visitor use a gym that has been funded by Dublin County Board? He who pays the piper calls the tune. The GAA will be quick to point out that Dublin, like any other county, will pay for the right to use this facility. That is not a problem as Dublin have plenty of money.
Through the careful planning and vision of Dublin County Board Chief Executive John Costello over the years and more recently under the direction of new full-time marketing manager Tomás Quinn, Dublin have secured millions in sponsorship from AIG, SuperValu and many, many others. This ensures more than adequate funding, not only for their adult county teams and large backroom staff but also for their underage and development squads who will clearly want for nothing going forward.
Meanwhile, the €1.4m that Dublin have received annually since 2005 from the Irish Sports Council (taxpayers' money) backed up where necessary over the past few years by Croke Park, continues to fund 60 full-time Games Promotion Officers (GPOs) who during the regular working day are coaching a massive young GAA population in Dublin schools.
The impact this has had is evidenced by the fact that a Dublin club has won six of the last 10 All-Ireland under 14 Féile competitions, four of the last 10 Leinster minor championships and six of the last 10 under 21 championships, including the last three in a row.
To their credit, Dublin clubs are prepared to put their money where their mouths are, funding 50 per cent of the coaches' salaries . . . every year. They are however in a better position than most to do this because the population catchment area of many of these clubs is the equivalent of a good-sized town in rural Ireland.
Since over 25 per cent of the country's population live in Dublin, this not only provides a frightening underage playing population (some clubs have as many as five under 12 football teams) but also the temptation for adult players from far removed counties who are working in Dublin to throw in their lot with clubs in the capital is considerable. Many clubs in Dublin have several county players from inside and outside the city. This means that Dublin club football is seriously competitive. A significant number of senior clubs in Dublin would give teams in Division 4 and possibly Division 3 of the National Football League a serious run for their money. Little wonder then that Dublin clubs have won four of the last 10 All-Ireland senior club championships.
The non-Dublin GAA public, I am sure, would have no difficulty with the principle of the GAA trying to generate as much income as possible provided that income is distributed fairly so that other counties could likewise receive funding proportionate to their population to fund GPOs for their clubs.
They should also consider funding a full-time strength and conditioning coach for each county as now exists in Dublin and they could contribute to the cost of preparing development squads, underage teams and senior teams for counties who do not have the population capacity or the marketing opportunities Dublin have.
Otherwise, the inter-county football scene will continue as it has gone over the past 10 years. The gap between those at the top and lower down gets bigger and bigger and will continue to do so. The GAA public will continue to lose interest.
Little wonder that many potential county players from weaker counties have opted out of the county football scene where they are obliged to train and prepare and make the same sacrifices as the top four or five teams without the slightest hope of any success. For many people the provincial football championship is becoming a bore with little or no opposition to Dublin in Leinster, with Cork on a good day occasionally catching Kerry in Munster, Mayo routinely winning Connacht and the much-maligned Ulster Championship being the only one to provide a variety of champions.
It is highly unlikely that the current unhealthy lopsided scenario is what the GAA want. The president and the ard-stiúrthóir both emphasised that the GAA had to be represented at the National Sports Campus but the investment of €12m, apart from providing a showpiece which may be attractive to clubs or county teams for a once-off day or weekend, will be of no meaningful value to any county other than Dublin.
Dublin did not need the subsidy which will only widen the gulf. They were willing to pay a sum rumoured to be around €8m for the Spawell site and it would have taken several million to develop it.
So the point at issue here is not the creation of the Abbotstown complex, which is magnificent, but the land which was free should have been given to the Dublin County Board and they could have got on with the development. The €12m from central funds would have been better spent in giving other county boards a grant to improve their facilities and employing full-time coaches.
If there is any money now left in the GAA coffers then other counties need to see it and see it quickly, and of course, use it wisely. Otherwise we may have great facilities in Dublin but no serious competition.
Sunday Indo Sport