Tuesday 23 January 2018

Martin Breheny: The Paddy Daltons of the GAA losing out more than ever to elite

Wicklow man’s retirement passed as mere footnote but he served game as well as anybody

An excellent, versatile performer for Wicklow, Paddy Dalton rarely got to enjoy the limelight simply because of where he was born. Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
An excellent, versatile performer for Wicklow, Paddy Dalton rarely got to enjoy the limelight simply because of where he was born. Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Unless you have been asleep for the last few days, you will be fully aware of Rory O'Carroll's travel plans for the year and the possible impact his absence could have on Dublin.

It has provided an interesting talking point in blue-land and an early-season tonic elsewhere as rivals consider how the departure of the All-Star No 3 might weaken the All-Ireland champions' defence.

Since Dublin are at the top end of the market, everything that happens there is deemed important. The same goes for the other top contenders.

And there's the rest, toiling away in a world of limited opportunity - either in playing or exposure terms. Their fate is dictated by geography, with place of birth setting the parameters on the achievement range. It's unique to the GAA and while the resulting inequality might appear inevitable within a county structure, serious questions arise as to whether enough - or indeed anything - is being done to rebalance the scales.

The start of a new season seems like the ideal time to reflect on that. It crossed my mind last Sunday when O'Carroll's opt-out made the evening news on RTé.

Alan Brogan and his son Jamie after their shock semi-final defeat to Donegal in 2014

Last month, Alan Brogan's retirement remained the big GAA story for days, an understandable reaction to the departure of one of the best of his generation. Yet, when another outstanding footballer also retired in December, it passed as no more than a footnote.

But then Paddy Dalton is from Wicklow. He spent most of his career in Division 4, never played in a Leinster final, let alone an All-Ireland final and didn't appear on-stage on All-Star night.

Still, he was an excellent, hugely versatile player during a 10-year inter-county career.

"Paddy gave unbelievable commitment to the Wicklow cause. He is one of the hardest workers that I know and he may be stepping back as an inter-county player but he has already immersed himself in the development of the future stars of the game," said Wicklow manager Johnny Magee.

Dalton gave everything and expected little back. But should it have to be like that for him and others from weaker counties while an elite enjoy all the rewards?

In an interview with this newspaper last October, Magee painted a stark picture of an ever-widening divide among counties.

Differences in playing numbers are inevitable but Magee's bigger concern centred on the off-field resources available to the superpowers in comparison to the rest.

He predicted that unless there's a rebalancing over the next year or two, players from weaker counties will start to consider whether it's worth putting in so much effort for so little reward.

His basic point was that while they are prepared to tackle the odds arising from competing with bigger-population counties, they will run out of patience when they see that the advantages extend to support resources too.

"Changing the championship system won't do anything for weaker counties unless they are able to compete with the stronger teams when it comes to resources," said Magee.

Huge amounts of money are being spent by the bigger, successful counties but then they, unlike smaller neighbours, have the capacity to generate huge revenues.

GAA president Aogán ó Fearghail has spoken of adjusting central revenue streams in favour of counties with lower capacity to generate income and, frankly, it's something that has to happen soon.

The Paddy Daltons of the GAA have as much right to achieve their potential as anyone from Dublin, Kerry, Cork or the rest of the elite. As things stand, the blockages are getting bigger, not smaller.

Irish Independent

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