Paying price for success
Tipperary left no stone unturned in their pursuit of All-Ireland glory. Are Meath prepared to go down the same costly route, asks Colm Keys
It was enough, in the words of their former county board chairman and current GAA presidential candidate Con Hogan, "to set alarm bells ringing".
Hogan had been speaking at the 2008 annual Tipperary GAA convention, where the audited financial figures were being discussed. Tipperary had accounted for a 46pc rise in the cost of preparing their inter-county teams at all levels and codes, jumping from €745,000 in 2007 through the €1m barrier (€1,106,630 to be exact) for the first time.
It was Liam Sheedy's first year in charge of the senior hurling team, a Munster title had been claimed for the first time in seven years and the minor team had also been successful in reaching an All-Ireland final, but delegates were concerned at the rising cost it all entailed. Eamonn Buckley, the current treasurer, spelled it out in pragmatic terms however.
"You won't have success without cost," said Buckley, detailing areas from medical expertise to statistical and video analysis that had been significantly increased to aid the progression of all Tipp's teams. If they wanted the potential of their teams to be realised then the county had to have deep pockets.
It's doubtful if too many will contest the figures which appear in this year's audited accounts as Tipperary bask in the success of All-Ireland glory at senior and U-21 hurling level and at Munster U-21 football level.
Sheedy may have departed after three years, but the management template he has left behind is one which the Tipperary Board will be happy to support in the future. It provided high standards in all facets of preparations that helped the county to bridge the gap with Kilkenny quicker than expected.
The Tipperary players wanted for nothing in their pursuit of glory; they had a highly professional back-room team behind Sheedy and took themselves away three times during the season to Carton House, where they fine-tuned their preparations for big games and fostered great team spirit.
The price of success was high, but it was a price which Tipperary were ready to meet. Cork too have opened the purse strings since the initial players' strike in 2002 and their bills for all preparations now regularly come in at well in excess of €1m. It's not something they flinch at. Kerry have not baulked either at their near €1m price tag for repeated football success.
There is a growing realisation among those charged with administering county boards that while money doesn't guarantee success, it does provide a pathway. Managers from outside a county are not a panacea for everything either, but if they provide the best option available at a particular time, then state of origin should not be a barrier.
That's the dilemma Meath have found themselves in recent weeks since Seamus McEnaney's union with Liam Harnan appeared to provide the best alternative after Eamonn O'Brien's unseemly dismissal by the club delegates in September.
The cost of the McEnaney package and the type of preparation he will oversee is not known, so claims that it will be significantly more than the previous regime are mere conjecture. The perception that the Meath County Board has been too frugal towards the preparation of their inter-county teams is not backed up by their audited figures in recent years either.
In Meath, O'Brien oversaw quite a professional set-up that involved 11 back-room staff including management. For 2009 there was €469,037 spent on all teams in a season when the flagship senior team reached an All-Ireland semi-final. Twelve months earlier the senior team crashed out of the qualifiers at the first round but spent considerably more in total preparations costs -- €601,000.
The senior team was one of the few to travel abroad for warm-weather training prior to this year's championship and also had weekends in Johnstown House in Kildare during the summer. Under O'Brien, technology was embraced in a much more forensic fashion.
These figures are slightly above average for counties who, in total, will have spent in excess of €25m in inter-county preparations in 2010, 90pc of which, according to one senior Croke Park official, goes on senior squads.
As Meath wrangle with the appointment of McEnaney, they need only to look to Dublin and Kildare and the extent of their back-room teams. Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney had 17 -- himself included -- involved, ranging from strength and conditioning coach Julie Davis to two goalkeeping coaches and a host of logistical and medical staff.
Dublin manager Pat Gilroy had almost as many. In addition to four members of the selection committee, Niall Moyna was involved through the liaison with DCU, while three more were involved in statistics and video analysis, including Ray Boyne, who also worked on logistics.
There was a dedicated media officer, while sports psychologist Caroline Currid worked regularly with Dublin as well as the Tipperary hurlers.
Only few years ago there was alarm when the total figure crashed through the €20m barrier, with the then GAA president Nickey Brennan pledging to try and get spending under control. In seven years up to October 2009, the audited figures for inter-county preparations had jumped about €13m from €11.9m in 2002.
Since Brennan's remarks the boats have just been pushed out further. The high price of success is inevitable, even in straitened times.