Monday 23 April 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Inter-county spending spree can't go on forever

It is costing €15,000 a week to run the Roscommon senior team, and Leitrim’s spend of €300,000 a year is the lowest in the country, but the inter-county scene‘s costs have spiralled out of control. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
It is costing €15,000 a week to run the Roscommon senior team, and Leitrim’s spend of €300,000 a year is the lowest in the country, but the inter-county scene‘s costs have spiralled out of control. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

When it was revealed in Roscommon that it was costing €15,000 per week to run the senior team, it just made everyone aware of the runaway train that county teams have become.

In some places there is a reluctance from county board officials to give a detailed breakdown on individual team spending such as minor and under 21s and what part of the overall total goes on each. In the Roscommon case, Kevin McStay did not treat his county's spending as the third secret of Fatima. That was the figure and people could make what they liked of it.

It made me think, however. When Simonstown won the Meath senior championship last year, the total spend on the team was around €15,000. Almost all of that was on medical and physio bills. A couple of serious injuries, where money for operations was paid out, pushed this figure higher than usual.

There was no expenses for management or players and we had an excellent sponsor in DCSL. The contrast with county football though is stunning - where the players get travel expenses, training gear which includes a wet suit, several pairs of socks, tops, shorts, boots, runners and whatever else is needed or even not needed.

The GPA were instrumental in securing this deal, it is costing Central Council almost a million in extra travelling expenses while over €800,000 went towards nutrition. Not too many county players have ever looked undernourished to me. Maybe the GPA should be looking at some leisure wear next for their players and a nice suit for business interviews. That is the road we are on.

What is happening is that county football is a professional game without payment to players. Yet all around them there are people who have a nice earner from their involvement with a county side. It is not fair or even accurate to paint everyone in the same colour but the country is full of bluffers following county teams. Many have no loyalties and just parade around to where they find the next paid job. There are lots of club managers in this category too unfortunately.

The list of paid employees on a county squad can be staggering and it can cause great embarrassment to those who are not getting paid. For example, there are many team doctors around the country who don't get anything except the satisfaction of being involved and they would not want it any other way.

Dr Con Murphy must have worn out several sets of knees and hips running to tend to injured players on various Cork teams. He reminds me of Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, who got an award from the council for long service on the streets. His boast was that he had the same brush for years apart from several new heads and half a dozen handles.

The best way to run a club team is to have everyone doing things for nothing. Naturally, a physio will have to get something but that can be negotiated. Maybe the same should apply at county level. Anyone from trainers, physios, statisticians, dietitians, drivers, caterers and many more can achieve a very good profile from involvement with a county team. As a result, the payments should reflect that.

Maybe my views appear particularly naive to all the smart people involved in county football but there are certain realities which county boards should observe. Spending must be related to income. If you can't afford it then you should not spend it.

Dublin spent €1.6m on their teams, which is easily affordable from the amount of commercial income that flows in like hot treacle and this does not show the amount of money spent on team holidays either. Leitrim spent almost €300,000, the lowest spend in the country, but coming from a narrow income base, it is probably unaffordable or at the very least it means there are other spending projects which suffer.

If county football was a business and teams were measured on a cost-benefit analysis then most county boards would be forced to withdraw their senior team from all competitions. That would apply to about 20 counties.

Maybe they would still take part in the league as this suits their standard but they could pull up the draw bridge after that because training and playing in the championship is a complete waste of money. Burying it would be much more productive. Some future generation could come up with a better way to indulge their pastime.

Of course there are many counties who have excellent sponsors. Devenish in Meath is certainly one of those. So the burden of the expense of the county team shifts away from the county board. If there was not so many philanthropists involved in football and hurling, the GAA would drown in a self-created ocean of debt.

Some counties pay a game of chicken with their county team; it is risk versus reward. By spending heavily on the county side there is the hope, maybe even belief, that success will come which may be expensive but it will lead to a surge in income from higher gates at club level and increased sponsorship and other commercial deals. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The restructuring of the inter-county season was supposed to make players more available to their clubs and save money for county boards as well. The first part is a complete myth and you can include me out in believing that it will save a silver dollar.

Teams just go back training earlier so the length of the season does not change. All it means is that a county footballer will do the vast majority of training and playing in the worst months of the year. All over in time too for the Super Eights and Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and a few others really do need more games in Croke Park in late summer.

Some day a brave county board chairperson from a weaker county will decide that less will be spent, maybe much less. So the number of training sessions will be cut, fewer expenses will be paid out and the likelihood that the county team's performance will not suffer. After all, the majority get two good hidings in the championship anyway. He or maybe she could become a cult hero.

There were lots of comments last week about the vast sums being spent on county teams, over €25m in total. It would help to feed a poor country in Africa. Commentators and more than a few administrators use the word "unsustainable" regularly when referencing this spending. I am not sure what that means. What I do know is that most county teams will continue on their merry ways and there won't be anyone at any level to shout stop.

In Charles Dickens' novel David Copperfield, there is a fictional character called Micawber. He operated on the principle that he did not really have to face reality as "something will turn up". There is a Micawber running a lot of county boards.

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