Saturday 7 December 2019

Mind the gap as super-rich Dublin win financial wars

Bryan Cullen (SPORTSFILE)
Bryan Cullen (SPORTSFILE)
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It’s safe to assume that no announcements are imminent from Leitrim, Longford or Louth that they have appointed a High Performance Manager, who will be "entrusted with developing a long-term player pathway from juvenile to senior level for the county’s players, as well as taking a lead role in the strength and conditioning of all our inter-county teams."

Instead, all three counties – and indeed the vast majority of the others – will look on enviously at Dublin, who have recruited Bryan Cullen as their High Performance Manager.

Many in Dublin GAA were uncomfortable that Cullen was working for Leinster Rugby in recent years, believing that the professional skills of the 2011 All-Ireland-winning captain should have been harnessed for the betterment of Gaelic games in his native county.

It was an understandable viewpoint so Cullen’s return to the GAA fold will be widely welcomed in Dublin.

Elsewhere, it will be looked on more quizzically by counties who regard it as another example of Dublin using their massive resources to further exploit their natural advantages to widen the competitive gap between them and others.


Dublin are, of course, fully entitled to spend as much as they can afford on ensuring that they have the best possible structures and systems. Indeed, they have a responsibility to do that.

But here’s where the concern arises for the wider GAA. Dublin’s capacity to generate sponsorship income – especially at a time when the footballers are prospering so spectacularly – is at a completely different level to the rest of the country.

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Okay, so there may be a few counties that can raise large income but the vast majority cannot. That includes the majority of Dublin’s Leinster rivals.

Yet, they are expected to compete with Dublin, not just in running Gaelic games at all levels but also competing on the pitch.

So, over the next few seasons, as Dublin minor teams, drawn from a massive selection pool, head into the championship off a detailed programme devised by the High Performance Manager over a period of years, their rivals will be dealing from a far less well-stacked deck.

So too with U-21s and seniors.

Now, that might be classed as ‘tough luck’ if it didn’t ignore a few realities. As an organisation for all its members, the GAA has a responsibility to share its wealth in order to create equal opportunities in as much as that’s possible.

Huge resources were allocated to Dublin over many years on the basis that it was crucial to have a healthy GAA in the Capital. It was a wise policy, the bountiful fruits of which have been evident in recent times. However, the question now is: when does Dublin’s strength become a weakness for the wider GAA?

Some senior county managers have spoken recently about how an increasing number of players won’t commit to the cause, presumably because they don’t see it as being worth the effort.

Wicklow manager Johnny Magee said that unless weaker counties were provided with the resources to match the likes of Dublin in off-field supports inside over the next year or two, the problem would be unfixable.

GAA president Aogán ó Fearghail has spoken of rebalancing finances in favour of less-well-off counties, a territory that’s extending all the time.

When Dublin can start the year by announcing the appointment of a High Performance Manager, it provides another illustration of their strength.

That’s to be admired and applauded but the GAA is not merely a series of 32 franchises, with no links to each other.

If it’s to prosper, it has to adopt the co-op approach, where resources are spread in line with requirements.

Given the wide variations in the size of counties and, by extension, playing numbers, inequality is inevitable.

However, it can be addressed in certain areas, not least that smaller counties are given the resources to ensure that they can compete equally with the likes of Dublin when it comes to preparing teams at all ages.

Otherwise, how long before the county system breaks down irretrievably?

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