Monday 26 September 2016

The Great Debate: Is money the answer to bridging gap between football's elite and the rest?

Colm Keys and Martin Breheny

Published 07/08/2015 | 02:30

A dejected Alan Smith makes his way off the field after Kildare's crushing defeat to Kerry SPORTSFILE
A dejected Alan Smith makes his way off the field after Kildare's crushing defeat to Kerry SPORTSFILE
Sligo's Nathan Mullen shows his disappointment at his side’s loss to Tyrone SPORTSFILE

Colm Keys says 'Yes': First a contrast. In the three main Irish-American cities earlier this summer Kerry GAA was able to drum up in excess of $1m through a series of fundraising events from gala dinners to a golf classic and an auction.

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When associated costs were taken out of it, Kerry hoped that the bill for the €5.8million Centre of Excellence at Currans would be cleared. It's the game's most successful county flexing its muscle impressively in a self-sufficient way, tapping into its potential to put down quite a large marker for the future.

Compare that to their opponents in last Sunday's All-Ireland quarter-final Kildare who have required oversight from Croke Park in recent years when cheques are being signed. One of their principal fundraising events has been shaking buckets around the county on a particular weekend. Nothing wrong with that, it should be said, but the contrast with 420 patrons paying a grand a plate in the Plaza can't be overlooked.

Nor can it be attributed to a result like last Sunday. But what does it do for a county like Kerry to know that there is such financial backing for them? Dublin too who brought all their title sponsors into a breakfast in the Gibson Hotel recently where they were address by Jim Gavin and Ger Cunningham.

Money is not everything but it's a lot of things and central to that is how it is spent. Kildare are currently unable to help themselves to clear significant historical debts that have rolled up from year-to-year but they are a big county that have had their team resources cut dramatically in recent years to fight that tide of debt.

One of the results that should really concern the GAA at central level is Louth's 3-21 to 0-7 capitulation to Tipperary. This from a county that has the two largest provincial towns in the country and has no recent underage footprint of significance.

In 2013, Louth's €258,211 take from central funds, through commercial revenue, league revenue, games development, administration and capital grants was the lowest of the 32 counties. Wee County by name and by nature, it seems, when it comes to revenue distribution.

But to tackle disinterest and fight battles with other sports surely it should be the target of an even more concerted effort by the GAA, at least to improve standards to a more acceptable level.

A look at the GAA's annual accounts will show just the headline figures of where money goes and how about everything is re-invested, leaving little margin for increase. Money for games development accounts for a considerable 20 per cent.

But the financial re-balancing programme, taking from the strong to give to the weak, currently under review requires acceleration. Like the NFL draft system, those at the bottom must be prioritised.

Martin Breheny says 'No'

Throwing lots of money at the health services was a great success. Wasn't it?

Well, no actually. So much cash was whooshed towards the health budget during the boom years that a person suffering from even a minor ailment might reasonably expect to be pampered in a luxury hospital, with individual attention from staff.

Instead, people with serious conditions either couldn't get into hospital at all or, if they did, had to make do with trolley-beds in corridors. No change there, mind you.

Writing large cheques didn't solve the health-service problem. Back in GAA-land, tossing money at the likes of Leitrim and Carlow won't suddenly empower them to such a degree that they rise through the ranks, knocking Kerry and Dublin as they go.

Investment is important, but there's a whole lot more to raising standards than spending money.

The issue here is three-fold: which counties should be contending for All-Irelands on a fairly regular basis; which counties should be capable of making the top eight and how high can the remaining ones reach?

Those key differentiations are being missed in the current stampede to provide a boil-in-the-bag solution to a complex problem.

A shortage of money is the not the reason why Galway will be heading into their eighth year without a Connacht title in January.

Nor has it caused the alarming slump in Meath, the more recent decline in Kildare or the return of Laois to the bad old days.

If Mayo, Donegal, Monaghan, Tyrone can be in with a chance of winning the All-Ireland, why not Galway, Meath, Kildare and Laois?

It's not that the current marker leaders have pulled so far ahead of the rest but that opposition, who would have been expected to challenge them, are dropping back.

Galway and Meath, who shared four All-Irelands between 1996 and 2001, are classic examples. Does anyone believe that Meath 1996-2001 or, even more imposingly, the squad of 1986-'91, wouldn't be a match for the current Dublin outfit?

And would Mayo have won five-in-a-row in Connacht if they were up against the Galway team of 1998-2005? Not a chance. Only Meath and Galway can explain why they have regressed. It's certainly not down to money.

Calling for huge money to be tossed at the imbalance problem is easy and populist but, as a policy, it's sterile because the correction can only come from inside counties themselves.

By all means, support them if they have a vision and a plan. But throwing finance at the problem in the absence of either is waste of time - not to mention money.

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