Ewan McKenna: Páraic Duffy and the GAA have made Dublin a financially doped outfit and there is no defence for this scandal
“Páraic Duffy is a nice man.”
A decade back, if you had inquired about the newly-appointed director-general to many of those that knew him, that usually came back as a routine appraisal. Over time it's changed to him being a very nice man, except in recent years it's been used as a reflex defence. But this is business so he ought to be judged professionally, not personally. It's business so he has to be judged on actions and not words.
During his ultimate annual report before stepping aside, so much was again viewed through the prism of finance and profit. But what gave the greatest insight into how the culture of Croke Park under his watch has become about cash was his parting musing on Dublin.
With time ticking on his tenure, this was a final two fingers to those who've long talked logic, facts and fairness on the subject. The headlines were about how the capital won't be split – a point which is interesting but not vital, and needs to be rationally debated and not just embraced or dismissed - but his reasoning was the troubling part.
“In achieving their five All Ireland titles in the past seven years, the margin of victory was a single point in four finals (one after a replay) and a three-point victory over Kerry in 2015,” he pointedly penned. “This hardly constitutes evidence of a county stream-rolling over all opposition, or proof of the need to divide a county because it is vastly superior to the rest and must be broken up into two or three divisions for inter-county competition. The history of our games, and of sport in general, tells us that Dublin won't win forever... The main reason for Dublin's current success is that they have an outstanding group of players and an exceptional team management.”
If it wasn't good enough, it was at least awfully consistent in ignoring the issues and trying to pawn off the problems on excuses that don't stack up. With 31 footballing children here, had this been Sophie's Choice there wouldn't have been much emotion in the train station and no script thereafter. Dublin have been his and the GAA's favourite offspring to the point anyone arguing otherwise – including him – are embarrassing themselves. You can't defend this scandal.
Indeed his latest comments brought to mind his appearance at an Oireachtas committee last January. Asked there about why such a disproportionate amount of funding goes to the one place that can self-sustain a semi-pro team all by itself he replied: “We are aware and Dublin are aware of the need to re-balance that and that is happening at the moment... with Dublin's approval.”
Back when Dublin finally made their way up the Hogan Stand steps in 2011, we were told that was a one-off group as well. “When Alan goes... When Bernard goes... When Diarmuid goes...” By the last All Ireland they'd all gone from the starting XV, in fact there were 11 new faces six years on, all still winning. It meant this wasn't a great team, it was a succession of great teams via a predictable conveyor belt of brilliant talent. Compare with Kerry 1978 and 1981 where 14 starters remained.
As for the idea of it being close, in 2011 their average winning margin per championship game was a mere 3.67 points, but over the three-in-a-row that leads to this season, that boomed to 9.8. It goes on as last season's 12.5 points is the largest in the modern era. Contrast that with the qualifier years in that category and you get Galway 2001 – 6.25; Armagh 2002 – 2.71; Tyrone 2003 – 8.71; Kerry 2004 – 5.71; Tyrone 2005 – 4.11; Kerry 2006 – 5.88; Kerry 2007 – 6.4; Tyrone 2008 – 4.25; Kerry 2009 – 3.38; Cork 2010 – 4.63; Donegal 2012 – 5.29; Kerry 2014 – 4.83. Even the oft-touted easiest All Ireland of them all in 1997 saw Kerry win by just five points per game.
What it's left is Fermanagh doing a lap of honour of Croke Park because a Dublin side in second gear beat them by just eight, and Kildare being slapped on the arse and told they were competitive when they lost by only the nine in a provincial final.
It isn't getting better so is it any wonder fans in Leinster for some time haven't been going in numbers, as why pay to see your team and identity humiliated by a financially doped outfit?
Back in the late 2000s it was clear Dublin were bleeding their province to the point the game was struggling elsewhere, as the choice for elite athletes was commit to football with no chance to win or play something else that gives them that opening. The natural progression was for that trend to take hold nationally and we're now in the midst of that.
Still, Duffy sees it fit to mislead us with what can easily be disproven, all to placate the cash cow.
There is nothing more boring in the sport right now than those trying to put up a counter-argument as they are as lazy as predictable. But before we move on let's address and debunk some of that bluster.
1. It's true Dublin clubs matched the money put forward for their games development officers, paying half the wages with the GAA paying the rest. But they are not unique as, for instance, in Leinster, only 53 per cent of the wages of coaches come from the provincial council.
2. Dublin aren't solely funded within the GAA accounts, with the rest getting their payouts through the provincial councils. In the Leinster financial reports, the only county mentioned by name is under the heading of 'The Dublin Coaching Project' and was worth €241,050 at last count.
3. Taking the category of games development grants and throwing in the likes of expenses and capital project money in a nonsense rouse. For example Mayo's travel money is because their players have to move cross-country all year, a fact that hinders rather than helps development. As for bricks and mortar, as another example the money for O'Moore Park doesn't make Laois a better team as they don't always play at home but, if you want to go down that disingenuous path, why not add the €260m cost of Croke Park onto Dublin's books given they do always play there.
4. The calls about not splitting Kilkenny and Kerry in the past demonstrates a complete lack of understanding - not of what Dublin have done but of how they've done it. Those former counties didn't have massive financial favouritism from a supposedly independent governing body to help build empires, instead their success was built around factors that could be replicated elsewhere. Besides, the issue over Dublin was never solely about winning, it'd remain had they never won.
5. This isn't a shot at Dublin for they have done nothing wrong in all of this. Any county would keep on hoovering up the majority of finance if it were on offer from headquarters, as they've done for a long time. Instead the issue is with the GAA and Duffy, although it can at times be hard to differentiate.
6. Money does help kick a ball over the bar. Quality and quantity of coaching improves players to the point they are better equipped to do just that. It's why there's a multi-billion dollar industry in this area across each and every sport. Yes, you'll always have freaks money cannot make, but it can better even them and that's before their teammates' standard going up via such investment too.
Got it? Good. Now we can move on.
On Tuesday morning, a day after his thoughts were digested, Duffy went on Newstalk's Off The Ball for what was a tough interview with Joe Molloy. Tetchy and unconvincing, he touched on many areas from Sky Sports, to under-the-counter payments to managers, to club fixtures. What was brushed over though was this Dublin dilemma, with the director-general saying little more than funding not being the issue and that their real advantage is numbers. He added on that note, “That's the system we operate.”
So that's it then? It doesn't work for the majority, so tough? The GAA will continue to support the side already best placed in terms of pretty much every other variable? Has it never occurred that pumping that population with unprecedented finance is a powder keg?
If you bang your head off the wall long enough you'll likely do yourself more damage, but ultimately the plaster might begin to crack and break and progress might be made.
We'd be bored of stating the same figures over and over if they weren't so important and what has been happening in the GAA would be laughable if not such a disgrace but so many still excuse it by pretending it's not real. It's been like a lad shortly after a tell-tale name like the banking crisis blaming the economic collapse on immigrants in his housing estate.
We know that meetings with Bertie helped taxpayers' money be specially transferred to Dublin in the form of games development grants and that totaled €5m between 2005 and 2009. For perspective that would take Mayo 38 years to earn given their last allocation. It quickly gets worse as between 2010 and 2014, taking the GAA's games development funding per registered player per county, Mayo were at €22.30, Tyrone at €21, Kerry at €19. As for Dublin, €274.70.
On that Croke Park development money, the national average outside of Dublin in 2016 was €153,570, but Dublin got €1,463,400.
It's true it's closer than in previous years but all it does is allow the gap to grow more slowly and doesn't take into account that considering those playing numbers Duffy mentioned, smaller counties would nominally need more than Dublin to keep pace. Then there's their other huge advantage - market share.
It created a sponsorship deal of close to €1m and close to half a million via their 12 other official partners. And Duffy thinks this is a special group running some brutal gauntlet? It's a pathetic statement that misrepresents reality.
There are those that say the money is for the clubs and this is a poor argument given the GAA's attitude to that realm. But let's say that is the case. What's crucial in a functioning GAA is a two-way street and balanced eco-system with the blue-ribbon event key to perception, prestige and income. Where does Duffy think this all leads in that instance?
Using those playing numbers and population, just 2.91% of those in Dublin are lining out – that's against 7.53% in Munster, 7.76% in Ulster's nationalist community, 8.16% in Connacht and 8.6% in the rest of Leinster.
But if this is the beginning and the cash and success is growing the game in Dublin as planned, should it get on par with the rest of the province it dominates, that's an extra 70,500 players they'd have at their disposal. What then? These are the issues Duffy and those around him helped create for short-term gain but skipped over the long-term consequences while still being in denial.
What Dublin are doing is playing this perfectly. They talk about low actual playing numbers but want the money based on potential numbers.
The GAA nod but can you imagine the uproar if Dublin were given the money based on actual numbers but had to field numerous sides based on potential numbers? It should match up as what we have now is one county getting the games development money of a province, with the potential playing base of a province but fielding one team.
It means this isn't a special achievement we are seeing from Jim Gavin. It's basically what you'd expect in this scenario as anything else would be a massive underachievement.
Páraic Duffy may be a nice man, and those in Dublin ought to sing it. But elsewhere he's helped damage intercounty football and what it meant and means to those in so many other places. That's not personal of course, it's just the business he thought was all that mattered.