Director General plans to give smaller counties greater share
It's a fact of sporting life, across so many codes in so many continents. The rich prosper and the poor are left scrambling in the dirt for crumbs. It's a fact of GAA life too, according to the association's director general Páraic Duffy.
Duffy's latest annual report to Congress is typically thought-provoking and even more headline-grabbing than the norm. However, while his trenchant criticism of both Dublin and Donegal over last year's Bitegate affair (carried in later editions of yesterday's Herald) has dominated most of those headlines, his views on the equalisation of county funding arguably carry even more significance.
You can call it the GAA's answer to risk equalisation for the health insurance industry: an attempt to level the playing field for all.
Suffice to say, Dublin will have another reason to drop Duffy off their Christmas card list ... although neither County Board chairman Andy Kettle nor CEO John Costello could be contacted yesterday for a reaction.
In a nutshell, Croke Park's top full-time official believes that if we are to sustain the inter-county model, then the smaller counties should be given more of the pot from central coffers.
"Will that happen?" was his rhetorical question at a media briefing in the GAA Museum yesterday. "Very difficult."
"Will there be opposition?" he continued in the same vein. "Definitely." But then he concluded: "If you expect those (counties) to participate as equals in the Championship, we have to give them some sort of chance."
You can anticipate what the likes of Dublin or Cork, to name just two populous GAA superpowers, will say to that.
They will reference the disproportionate percentage of income that they generate for central funds through gate receipts, which are then redistributed to all counties. They will argue the unfairness of a policy that would see the likes of Dublin punished in the pocket, just because they are able to attract such lucrative sponsorship deals – money that otherwise might never have filtered into the association.
Duffy's counter-argument is to provide a roll call of the least populous counties – Leitrim with 32,000; Longford 39,000; Carlow 54,000; Monaghan 60,000; Fermanagh 61,000; Roscommon 64,000; Sligo 65,000 – and declare: "They simply cannot generate the same amount of money."
While his native Monaghan last year won their first Ulster SFC title in a quarter-century, Duffy argued that these tend to be "once-in-a-lifetime" events for the smaller counties. Asked if he believed the inter-county structure was creaking, he seemed to agree with the sentiment but added: "I think that is the structure we have to stay with."
Writing in his annual report, the DG puts meat on the bones of his thesis. "We are in an era where some counties have backroom teams of up to 20 people; they can afford this back-up by virtue of their success in the top division of the Allianz Leagues, their income from sponsorship and corporate events, and from other fundraising," he explains.
"Small counties, by contrast, draw from a restricted pool of players, must survive on lower revenues, and can afford minimal backroom support, yet must compete in the same leagues and championships as those with substantially greater budgets.
"These lesser-funded counties incur the same travel, meal and medical costs, but do not have the additional resources and supports to compete on an equal footing. Indeed, some largely rural counties incur greater costs due to players constantly travelling long distances to training from major urban centres."
He goes on: "The inequitable levels of funding available to counties lead us to question our own current model of funding to counties, an issue that has recently been raised by an t-Uachtarán, Liam Ó Néill. Broadly speaking, we allocate fixed amounts to all counties, irrespective of whether a county has a population of 50,000 or 500,000, or has 50 clubs or 150 clubs, or is in Division 1 or Division 3 of the Allianz Leagues, etc.
"It is a model guaranteed to make it very difficult for small counties to participate in championships with a prospect of success.
"The only way we can address this issue in such a way as to retain a competitive inter-county model is to devise a fairer method of financial distribution.
"Given that a significant increase in overall GAA income is unlikely in the next couple of years, this would mean reducing funding for counties with strong 'gate' receipts, formidable fund-raising capacity and valuable sponsorship, and increasing direct support to those with lesser resources. This will not be easy, and I can imagine a cool reception from those counties whose Central Council funding would be reduced," he predicts.
Duffy stresses that his comments "are in no way directed at counties that have been successful in increasing revenue streams through sponsorship and other corporate supports. Quite the contrary: these counties are to be commended for their drive and initiative, and it is important that all counties continue to be proactive in this regard.
"My concern is for the predicament of smaller counties, so I would hope that, in 2014, our National Finance Management Committee will undertake a thorough examination of all central funding to counties, with a view to proposing a fairer method of allocation."