Tuesday 23 January 2018

Eugene McGee: The weaker counties must unite to get more money

Noel McGrath, Tipperary, is last to leave the field some eleven minutes after the final whistle Photo: Sportsfile
Noel McGrath, Tipperary, is last to leave the field some eleven minutes after the final whistle Photo: Sportsfile
Noel McGrath spent time shaking hands with well wishers, posing for selfies and photographs Photo: Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

For as long as I can remember one of the biggest sticks to beat the GAA with has been money. For decades, the 'Grab All Association' jibe was common currency among those inside and outside the Association who insisted they did not know how the GAA spent its money.

Thankfully the GAA now provides the most accurate financial statements of any sporting or other amateur organisation in the country. This was evident a couple of weeks ago when the GAA's Director of Finance, Tom Ryan, and Croke Park Stadium Director Peter McKenna presented the 2015 accounts and answered all questions from the media people present.

The details of the Association's income for the past year - over €56 million - is very impressive but less than half of that, €26.7 million, came from gate receipts. This tells us just how commercial the GAA has become in modern times.

My interest in these figures is sparked by the recent rumblings concerning the amount of money being handed over to Dublin GAA in annual contributions from central funds.

The eye-catching statistic is that last year nearly half of the contribution to counties from Croke Park - about €3,100,000 - was given to Dublin who collected €1,460,000.


These monies are usually listed under the 'Games & Development' heading and usually fund coaching and related matters. Dublin footballers are very successful with three All-Irelands in the past five years. The revival of hurling in the capital in recent years has also been spectacular.

The fact that Jim Gavin was speaking out recently about how important this financial injection is to his county would indicate that he and others in Dublin administration are conscious of the rumblings around the country. A lot of smaller counties for example only get around €50,000 from that pool.

Tom Ryan has stated that he does not believe that you can attribute playing success solely to financial support as he seeks to deflect the expected criticism. He is correct in that and Dublin's population is one obvious non-finance related factor in the county's growing success.

However, the millions invested by Dublin GAA over the past decade have been very well spent in strengthening the Association in the city and county, something that had been lacking for most of the GAA's history as any of us who lived in Dublin can vouch.

I believe the only way those weak counties in football can improve is to follow the Dublin model but to do that they will need substantial financial injections.

Not the sort of money Dublin get, but certainly far, far more than the €50,000 or so that many counties now receive.

There is no mystery about how the weaker counties can get stronger. Counties such as Leitrim and Longford all have limited resources in terms of population so the young players that are available have to be made better.

And the only way that can be done is by high-class coaching on an ongoing basis. This is where the extra money comes in. Every weak county would gain greatly by having up to four additional coaches available,.

This should cost less than €200,000 with county boards and their provincial councils making a major contribution in addition to Croke Park.

This coaching would increase the number of young players, attract them to Gaelic football over other sports and soon bring results at under-age county level.

Longford has the second smallest population in Ireland but good under-age coaching has worked well over the past 15 years.

Their minors have played in three Leinster finals, winning two, in the past 12 years. They beat Dublin in U-21 a few years ago and have reached two Leinster U-21 finals.

It can be done!

Rather than giving out about Dublin's largesse from Croke Park, those weaker counties should get together and DEMAND substantially more coaching money.

Forget about building stadiums that are concrete monuments that will never be filled.

Spend the money on the most important thing in the GAA - the players. Copy the Dublin system rather than being jealous.

The critical factor in the Dublin success is the high quality of their administration - led by Chief Executive John Costello - which is run like a business, a rarity in the GAA. Indeed the amount of financial cock-ups and administrative tomfoolery in the GAA has cost it dearly in recent years.

If the GAA is to release more money for weak counties, a proper management control system, administered by Croke Park, would be the first requirement. And the same would also need to apply to coaching systems and standards.

Demands on young players have gone beyond 'burnout'

There has been a lot of talk in recent times about player burnout. I believe a more correct description should be ‘player abuse’.

How many of the various bodies organising competitions in January and February each year are really interested in taking any corrective action.

There is a small army of committees involved in running the O’Byrne, McKenna and McGrath Cups, the FBD League,  the Sigerson Cup, the Ulster U-21 championship, the Leinster U-21 championship and possibly a few more that I have forgotten.

That’s seven different committees and one golden rule in GAA politics is that the more committees you have the less chance there is of anything changing.

What these groups have they hold and never will they change their ways.

That is why dozens of young players, and they are not all students, are forced to play midweek days before or after vital NFL games. That is wrong and unfair on these young men.

Remedies? There are several if the will is there but so far that will has been notably absent.

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