Saturday 10 December 2016

Martin Breheny: €60,000 spent every day on county teams... is this sustainable?

Rapidly-increasing spending on county teams is surely becoming unsustainable

Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30

Dublin spend over €1.5m on their counties teams every year
Dublin spend over €1.5m on their counties teams every year

The figure bounced off the pages as if demanding attention. Running inter-county teams in 2015 cost €21.87 million or, put another way, almost €60,000 for each of the 365 days of the year.

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Dublin, Cork, Galway, Tipperary, Limerick, Kerry and Armagh spent nearly €8.2 million between them.

At the less expensive end of the market, Wicklow, Louth, Leitrim, Fermanagh, Meath, Longford and Antrim spent a total of €2.6 million.

Colleague, Colm Keys undertook the onerous task of compiling the 2015 team costs of all 32 counties for last Saturday's Irish Independent and they really did make fascinating reading.

Ranging from Dublin, which came in as the highest on almost €1.6 million, to Wicklow, which was the lowest on €277,000, it tells a story of an escalating spending splurge which is surely unsustainable.

Expenditure has zoomed by almost 21 per cent in three years, having dropped in previous seasons, presumably as a result of the economic slump.

Control

Judging by last year's figures, which showed a seven per cent rise on 2014, upward pressures are again taking hold. And with many counties having poor cost control mechanisms, there's no knowing where this is heading.

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Mind you, it could very well be on a road to financial ruin for county boards, which would present the GAA's central powers with unprecedented difficulties.

The upward spiral in team costs accelerated early in the new millennium, almost doubling from €8.8 million in 2001 to €17 million in 2005. By 2007, the €20 million barrier was crossed.

It means that since 2000, around €250 million has been spent on squad preparation. Since approximately 80 per cent goes on senior panels, it takes spending on that grade to €200 million in 16 seasons.

On the 80 per estimate, around €17.5 million was spent on senior teams last year, an extraordinary figure on a number of fronts.

Some counties finished their county programmes in June, followed by most others in July and August.

And since no senior inter-county training is allowed until November 15 - and then only for squads eliminated in June - it means that the expenditure occurred over an eight to nine month period in most cases.

There are around 350 SF and SH games in Allianz League, All-Ireland championships, Christy Ring Cup etc, which leaves the average training cost per outing at €50,000. Of course, the carve-up isn't remotely even, with most of the money being spent on the leading teams from larger counties.

Big dual counties obviously have bigger bills - hence Dublin, Cork, Galway, Tipperary and Limerick leading the way - but there are some surprising eye-catchers elsewhere.

Armagh run a modest hurling operation, yet were seventh (€891,615) on the expenditure list last year. That's despite their senior footballers having only one Ulster championship game and being eliminated from the All-Ireland qualifiers on July 12.

Meath's costs (€416, 227) were more than 50 per cent less, despite being knocked out of the qualifiers on the same weekend as Armagh.

One area which has seen a large cost increase over recent times is backroom teams. Few senior squads are looked after by support groups of fewer than 12; many have up to 20 and some carry even more than that.

There was a time when the GAA was very concerned over illegal payments to managers and while it was (and is) still an issue, many of the main men are operating for free.

However, a growing industry has grown up around other backroom personnel, with payments being made on an official basis. It's quite legitimate, of course, to have professional people charge fees but the more it happens, the more demand will increase as a market develops.

Self-promotion is increasing rapidly too as various gurus realise that the inter-county ground is quite fertile if tilled carefully.

Then there's the 'copy-cat' syndrome. If Team A is backed up by a battalion of experts, Team B believes it can't progress without similar supports.

That's why, as Connacht Council secretary John Prenty pointed out in his annual report this year, it often takes two buses to carry players and management to games. Meanwhile, the costs clock ticks on. Three issues arise from the expenditure surge.

One: to what degree is it being fuelled by large support groups, many of which are paid? Two: How long before players demand to be paid, similar to some of those who are looking after them? Three: How can it be sustainable for counties to spend so much on county teams, especially since it's now increasing rapidly again?

Truly, this is a serious issue for the GAA, one which appears to have no easy solution. Against that background, financial turmoil could be looming in many counties.

How have Down benefited from McCorry exit?

I wonder what Jim McCorry makes of Down's dismal start to 2016. Four defeats by an average of 11 points leave them bottom of Division 1 and heading for relegation after one season on the top flight.

Their total return against Donegal, Monaghan, Kerry and Roscommon was 0-30, by far the lowest in the four divisions. And with Dublin (home), Cork and Mayo (away) to come, there's little chance of a reprieve.

McCorry resigned as manager last August after one season in charge, during which Down won promotion to Division 1, lost to Derry by a point in Ulster and by five to Wexford in the qualifiers.

Bizarrely, he later had to survive a county board vote (22-20) to be re-appointed for a second year. Despite the underwhelming support, he initially decided to stay on but later felt that he didn't have the backing of the full county executive and resigned in August. He claimed that some of the executive "lost the plot" because of the defeat by Wexford.

Former All-Ireland winner, Eamonn Burns, who replaced McCorry, has had a very difficult start but, in fairness, it's early days for him.

Still, McCorry's shabby treatment shows that patience is in short supply in Down, which now gives the impression that it has lost touch with reality and thinks it's better than it really is. Self-delusion won't help the cause.

Sligo look to colleges to up county stock

Not since 1968 have Sligo won the Connacht minor football title but they must be in with a very good chance of ending the drought this year, after Summerhill College and St Attracta's, dominated the Connacht Colleges 'A' Championship.

Summerhill beat their Tubbercurry rivals by two points in a high-quality Connacht final last Saturday to take the title for the first time since 1985.

Two Sligo schools had never previously contested the senior final.

It was a repeat of the Connacht League final, which Summerhill also won, so clearly the two Sligo colleges are the dominant force in the province. Easy semi-finals wins certainly suggested that.

Presumably, Summerhill and St Attracta's will provide many of the county minor team later on in the year on as it attempts to win the Connacht title for the first time in 48 years.

Sligo's only previous provincial success was in 1949 when, after losing to Roscommon in a replay, they were awarded the title on an objection when their rivals were found to have played an overage player.

Sligo drew with Galway in last year's Connacht final before losing the replay heavily. However, with the county's underage stock continuing to rise, thanks to Summerhill and St Attracta's, they will feel their time has come.

Sligo play Roscommon in the Connacht quarter-final in June, with the winners facing Galway in the semi-final.

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