Tuesday 16 July 2019

Alan Brogan: 'A central fund for team expenses could be a solution for the GAA'

'The strain on county boards would be eased if the tab was picked up by Croke Park'

Raheny clubmates Brian Howard and Brian Fenton celebrate with the Delaney Cup in Croke park on Sunday. The debate over senior teams' expenses rages, but there is a solution. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Raheny clubmates Brian Howard and Brian Fenton celebrate with the Delaney Cup in Croke park on Sunday. The debate over senior teams' expenses rages, but there is a solution. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

Kevin McStay made an interesting point on The Sunday Game before the Ulster final on the blazing issue of finance in the GAA.

He spoke of the requirement during his time as manager for Roscommon to engage wealthy benefactors to properly fund the essentials of the senior football team's preparations – food, travel, hotel bills, etc.

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Last year, he suggested the GAA centrally should meet these costs and I think that's an idea worth exploring.

The money spent on inter-county teams now is huge and swelling every year.

If a county board finds itself in a situation where that impacts the investment they can make at development level, then we have a serious problem.

The total figure of all those bills would logically be reduced if they're managed centrally and obviously, the strain on county boards would be eased if the tab was picked up by Croke Park.

In return, counties could be forced to sign up to a charter, part of which would include the requirement to provide at least two players for media/promotional activity on the week of a game.

Players are wrapped up to a ridiculous level these days and we, the GAA-consuming public and the GAA itself, are the big losers.

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There are great stories waiting to be told, narratives that could engage people in the build-up to matches, boosting attendances and general interest in the GAA.

Reading Zak Moradi’s interview it struck me there must be other untold stories in every county panel. Does Philly McMahon do the Dublin footballers' chances of winning an All-Ireland any harm when he speaks about addiction?

How come Jürgen Klopp can speak to the media the day before the Champions League final but certain inter-county managers won’t even speak after matches an more?

And despite perception, most players don’t mind doing media.

The tension occurs when they’re equipped with an invisible script they’ve to stick rigidly to or a list of issues about which they’re forbidden from answering questions honestly.

Players' personalities are being withheld from us and it’s to no-one’s benefit.

The GAA lose out through the lack of decent coverage. Most players drift almost anonymously through their careers.

The only stakeholders who win are managers, obsessed with emitting a unified, bland message and afraid of drawing more attention to their team than the opposition are to theirs.

Kevin McStay made some good points on The Sunday Game about team finances
Kevin McStay made some good points on The Sunday Game about team finances

But if everyone does it, the culture changes.

Managers loosen up. Players are more comfortable speaking. And media aren’t picking through clichés looking for the slightest morsel of controversy.

It’s just an idea.

But there seems to be a far greater number of problems out there in the GAA than solutions just now.

The finance debate is tedious because mostly, it’s so repetitive and opinion-based, devoid of factual evidence about how money is spent in Dublin and what effect that has.

There are a couple of issues here.

Firstly, the Games Promotion Officers that are half-funded by clubs and the county board’s redistribution of central grants.

The primary aim of these people is to attract children to GAA clubs and boost numbers.

They spend most of their time in primary schools, effectively subsidising P.E. in Dublin through the medium of Gaelic games.

Each one has a link to a club.

And the goal is to recruit as many young players as possible.

It’s a good scheme and judging by the figures provided by John Costello to RTÉ on Sunday, it seems to have yielded positive results in Dublin.

The GAA have invested in Dublin and if they cease or downsize that investment, we’ll have big centres of population in this country with no penetration of Gaelic games.

Quite how it influences the success of the senior football team is open to interpretation – the increased numbers playing football and hurling obviously can’t hurt.

Where it becomes problematic is when funding isn’t mirrored in other counties.

But to take the games development grant figure and divide it by the number of adult players in the county is a completely pointless excercise because the money is spent on primary school children, boys and girls, most of whom never go on to play at adult level.

To equate that to 'financial doping' by the senior football team is, at best, recklessly uninformed and, at worst, deliberately defamatory.

It's a scandalous term to use.

'Doping' implies deliberate cheating, regardless of the words placed before or after it.

But – and this is the key point - so long as Dublin receive a disproportionately high level of games development funding and the senior team are dominant, it’s impossible to prove that they money isn’t having an effect.

On the other hand, given Dublin’s poor record at minor level, how can anyone say for certain that it is?

At what stage do players begin to show how they've been unfairly enhanced by this money? Because clearly it's not before the age of 17.

Jim Gavin. Photo: Sportsfile
Jim Gavin. Photo: Sportsfile

I don't know why the 50/50 model isn't offered elsewhere but I’d imagine it has something to do with administration.

Dublin have the staff and the infrastructure to ensure that scheme is well-run and monitored whereas the GAA, in Leinster at least, seem to be trying to provide coaching to counties via the provincial council.

I'm sure they won't use this in any defence of policy but Croke Park couldn’t burn money quicker than they’d waste it by simply handing it over to county boards who haven’t the expertise or a structure to spend it on.

Put it this way. Any mid-to-lower ranking Leinster county would make greater progress far quicker if Jim Gavin became their manager in the morning than they would if their county board was suddenly handed €2million by the GAA on the simple proviso that they not spend it all in one shop.

So what do we want? County boards to be given more money or to be supplied with more help?

The autonomy of separate county boards is a weakness in this regard. What’s needed is organisation and structure.

Counties where officers come and go at every election, without administrative stability or practical development plans, aren’t good direct investments.

Which is why administrating money or coaching from provincial level is probably a good idea.

The elite counties - not just Dublin - are now structurally so far ahead of the weaker ones, it’s almost impossible for the latter to make any ground on the former without outside intervention from the GAA.

Tyrone's setup in Garvaghey and Kerry's new centre of excellence in Currans provide the sort of environment where high performance football teams are built at all age grades in a cohesive, structured way.

Most inter-county teams are starting from too far back now to make back any significant ground without greater help from Croke Park.

If that doesn't change, we'll be having this conversation forever.

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