Saturday 7 December 2019

Comment: Money-driven GAA should be rich enough to cope without relying on such poor January fare

Just prior to Christmas, Roscommon manager Kevin McStay estimated the cost of running a county team at €15,000 per week. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Just prior to Christmas, Roscommon manager Kevin McStay estimated the cost of running a county team at €15,000 per week. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

If the GAA were a sinister lot up there in the ivory towers of Croke Park with their gold toilets, comfortable in their stable genius, they would have advertised and ran off the interviews for the new director-general in July and August.

In the grip of All-Ireland fever, the watching public would have paid zero attention to the anointing of a new head honcho, string-puller and slick operator. They might have even given it to any of the following in a job-share arrangement: David Davis, Shane MacGowan, Harvey Weinstein and/or Barry McElduff. Nobody would have noticed.

But by advertising it in December and running off the interviews in January, they have kept it front and centre of the 'Great GAA Debate'.

It is our contention in this little corner of this newspaper that the nature of GAA hardly ever changes. However, the amount of media has exploded and in the wonderful world of that narcissism vehicle the internet, everyone feels their own scalding, roasting hot take is What The World Has Been Waiting For.

In a room full of shouting voices, the trick is to say something different.

Whereas in years before the wider GAA media would have folded up the tents and barely recorded the results of pre- and post-Christmas action, now you have podcasts on the state of Gaelic football and 'Five Things We Learned About The O'Byrne Cup'.

The other day there was an interesting mention on the radio of 'Viennese Hysteria', about a time when the teachings of Freud were fresh and brand new - a sort of latter-day 'hot-take'.

Such was the level of self-examination and Oedipus and Electra Complexes floating around that people were liable to drop to the ground on the very street, in urgent need of a leather therapy chair and some heavy duty conversation about what it all meant for your inner child.

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There's a lot of that around the GAA right now. People believe that the Association is going to disappear overnight because of a list of complaints, or, because of complaints that have always existed in plain sight, but just didn't get the audience before Twitter provided pub-talk with a microphone.

It's not all been useless though.

In the middle of all these hobby horses that got rocked for all they were worth, there was an increased focus on just how much it has cost to run a county senior team in football and hurling.

It is a scandal of our time.

Just prior to Christmas, Roscommon manager Kevin McStay estimated the cost of running a county team at €15,000 per week.

With teams back in action in the first weekend in January, they typically are returning to training in mid-October. The GAA ban on winter training has not been enforceable and the authorities have turned a blind eye to it.

Right now, most counties are exploring the possibility of appointing a CEO, or even redefining the current paid 'county secretary' role as one more suited to business management.

Recently, one Ulster county advertised for such a position. Throughout the interview process with one candidate, they kept returning to one theme - money. How do you get it in, how do you keep the spending down, and how can you increase that intake?

Right now, county boards are just money-generating machines to keep inter-county teams in equipment, training expertise, sustenance and weekends away. Most county boards such as Tyrone, Fermanagh, Down and Antrim have visible fundraising wings that are fighting rearguard actions against the cost of keeping all this on the road.

And what are we getting in return for all that energy and effort?

Days like last Sunday in Brewster Park between Fermanagh and Tyrone.

It was a game that was fought for manfully, full of incident and much to admire about both sides' will to win. But in the conditions, it was a dreadful example of football.

Both managers praised the effort on show and talked about taking lessons away for the summer. But neither team could have learned anything relating to what will happen in the summer.

All they learned was how to play football on a boggy pitch in January.

It's no place to show what a young hopeful could produce for the team later in the year when the going is good.

And what does it matter anyway? A counter-argument is the 4,612 that paid in at the Brewster Park gates.

And that the pre-season competitions are stellar fundraisers for provincial councils and go a long way to funding the wage bill.

If the GAA at county and national level were to scrap the January competitions, rigorously enforce no training whatsoever until January and start the league on the first weekend of February, there would be a saving of around €170,000 all round.

But is this where we have arrived? We can't get rid of a competition because people's jobs would be on the line?

If so, we truly are through the looking glass. An Association that provides year-round hotel suites for the president and the incoming director-general. On the back of people paying in to watch irrelevant tripe in January.

A blunderbuss of criticism can hit the mark occasionally.

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