Tuesday 19 June 2018

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Eight counties expected to rack up combined €1.3m training bill for just a handful of summer games

Talking Point

Roscommon manager Kevin McStay. Photo: Sportsfile
Roscommon manager Kevin McStay. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Eight counties will spend a combined total of more than €1.3 million in 11 weeks preparing for an All-Ireland football championship campaign which guarantees them only two games in most cases and which will end in early June.

It's a stark illustration of the high costs involved in running squads for relatively few games and also highlights how short the championship season will be for some counties.

It contrasts with the first three months of the year, when counties faced a hectic programme of pre-season and Allianz league action.

That's followed by a six-week lull before the start of the championship.

However, it's the most expensive time as training regimes - which usually include weekends away and other specialist routines - are at their most intense.

With the All-Ireland qualifiers starting earlier than usual this year, eight counties will be eliminated from the championship by June 9, leaving them without a competitive game until the start of next year's league in late January.

The €1.3m figure for eight counties is based on an average spend of €15,000 per week between the end of the league and championship elimination in the first round of qualifiers.

The soaring cost of preparing county teams has become increasingly controversial in recent years, but the upward trend is showing no sign of abating.

Indeed, all the indications are that it will continue to be a growth industry.

That's due to increased mileage allowances, plus a rapid growth in backroom personnel, most of whom are paid for their services.

The use of professional experts in various areas of team preparation is now considered essential by team managers, greatly adding to costs.

There's a high degree of copycat mentality involved too, with counties fearing that they may be losing out unless they replicate what others are doing.

Around €25m was spent on inter-county squads in 2017.

Most counties don't itemise spending for individual teams but the Roscommon convention was told last December that the senior squad costs were around €15,000 per week.

Roscommon manager Kevin McStay said at the time that he had cut his budget to the limit for this year.

"That's the way some counties are. They are living week to week, month to month. I just don't see where we can cut any more corners," he said.

Roscommon's costs are thought to be mid-range, with some better-off counties spending considerably higher amounts and others living off more meagre figures.

Assuming that €15,000 per week is the average across the country at this time of year when pre-championship preparations are in full swing, several counties are set to spend around €165,000 each between the end of the league in late March and June 9, when they exit the championship after two or three games.

In many cases, the same counties fall into this category every year after making no headway in the provincials or qualifiers.

The 16 counties who don't reach their provincial semi-finals will enter the first round of the qualifiers, playing off in eight games.

Many of the counties in the first round of qualifiers will have had only one provincial game, so if they exit the All-Ireland race in their next outing, their summer will be short and expensive.

Galway, Monaghan and Tyrone, who occupied three of the top four places in Division 1 this year, are among those who could find themselves in Round 1 of the qualifiers.

Mayo, All-Ireland runners-up for the last two years, are also at risk of being sent on the longest possible haul.

Galway play Mayo in the Connacht quarter-final on May 13, followed a week later by Tyrone v Monaghan in the Ulster quarter-final.

The two losers could be drawn in the first round of the qualifiers, potentially leaving a Division 1 team certain to exit the championship on June 9.

Irrespective of the pairings in the Round 1 qualifiers, eight counties will be eliminated from the championship 12 days before mid-summer's day, having spent large sums of money preparing for two games.

That contrasts with hurling where the five counties in the Leinster and Munster championships are guaranteed four games each.

Even then, only four of the 10 are eliminated so in terms of value for money, hurling is much more cost effective than football.

By June 23, 16 counties will be gone from the football championship, many of which will have had only three games.

Training for those games will have cost each county €15,000 per week since the end of March.

The training session-to-game ratio is imbalanced and that will continue as long as the current championship format exists. The next opportunity to address it won't arrive until the end of 2020.

The counties who will be in Round 1 of the football qualifiers are: Galway or Mayo; Sligo or London; Tyrone or Monaghan; Down or Antrim; Armagh or Fermanagh; Meath or Longford; Limerick or Clare; Tipperary or Waterford; two from Donegal, Cavan, Derry; two from Wexford, Laois, Westmeath; two from Offaly, Wicklow, Dublin; two from Louth, Carlow, Kildare.

Irish Independent

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