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The Growing Divide

A discussion at a recent meeting of Kildare County Board centred on the potential of Dublin football, and to a lesser extent hurling, to dominate the province in future years on the back of what they have achieved in 2011 and 2012.

Over the stated period, Dublin have won all but one of the six 'mainstream' Leinster football titles available to them, the 2011 and 2012 minor and senior titles and the 2012 U-21 title. Only Meath's victory in the 2011 U-21 championship prevented a clean sweep in the two years.

Three of the provincial titles won were followed up with All-Ireland titles in this year's minor and U-21 championship and of course last year's senior championship.

It may just be that the county has hit a golden period for production of good underage players and may not be sustainable. But economy of scale never seems more relevant to Dublin GAA than it does now and the concern is not just limited to their neighbours to the west.

With over 1,300 teams between the ages of eight and 16 in hurling and football, over 50 full-time coaches and a much stronger level of organisation throughout the capital, it seems inevitable that the ideals of the 'Blue Wave' document, produced 12 months ago, may be realised.


It is being powered by the biggest commercial deal any county has ever entered with a sponsor.

The Kildare discussion focused as much on finance as anything else and the delegate who raised it asked the obvious question as to how a county whose main sponsor gave them €20,000 according to audited figures (Leitrim) can realistically compete with another county that can generate close to €1m (what Dublin's deal with Vodafone is estimated to be worth) annually in sponsorship.

The suggestion at that Kildare meeting that the GAA should somehow "communise" shirt sponsorship by striking deals centrally through the GAA's commercial department and pooling the money on a more equal basis, is unlikely to gain much traction but was thought provoking nonetheless.

Nowhere on the GAA spectrum is the great divide more obvious than the commercial deals being struck. The example of the smallest population having to compete against the largest population on much the same terms with such a vast commercial gulf between them draws attention to the great divide that exists in GAA sponsorship.

Yet despite the compression on finances that the last few years has brought, counties are still managing to lure sponsors, albeit for much less money in most cases than before.

Right now just two counties, Cork and Kildare, are without sponsors for the 2013 season. Both are known to be in discussions with a number of interested parties and should secure agreement in the coming weeks given the prominence of their brands.

According to their end-of-year accounts for 2011, Cork GAA got €369,672 from O2 that didn't include sportswear and equipment. It is still a long way short of Dublin's deal but is comfortably the next most lucrative.

More than half of the existing shirt deals would now be under €100,000 but the success of Meath, Tyrone and Armagh in securing sponsorship quite quickly with vibrant companies is a reflection that their brands remain strong.

The number of companies with links to the construction industry continues to fall but half the sponsors of the teams from Northern Ireland do have such links.

One of the most interesting commercial developments in 2013 is the probable clearance at Congress for multi sponsors to be allowed on playing gear.

A submission on this to the GAA's Management Committee is being made by the commercial department on the back of a Roscommon motion to Congress last April.

What form it will take remains to be seen but according to John Trainor, the managing director of the consultancy Onside Sponsorship, it has the potential to lift revenues by between 15pc and 30pc.

Trainor says the research and analysis of his firm shows that the "efficiency" of GAA inter-county shirt sponsorship is strong.

"Smart businesses are doing the maths and the analysis and have come to realise just how efficient a shirt GAA sponsorship can be. Relative to return they consistently score highly," he said.

Onside Sponsorship routinely collate data on the favourite GAA teams of the population and have found that, with 422,000 'favourites', Cork are the most popular hurling team followed by Dublin with 399,000.

This, he cautions, does not necessarily convert into tangible match-day support.

Irish Independent