Thursday 18 July 2019

No plans to cut spending in Dublin as GAA chiefs stand firm

SRC's recommendations from 2002 have had far-reaching consequences

The Dublin team stand for the national anthem prior to the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final against Meath at the weekend. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The Dublin team stand for the national anthem prior to the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final against Meath at the weekend. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Even in its time, the Strategic Review Committee's (SRC) publication of 2002 was considered a bold and far-reaching document.

Across 20 months, the high-powered group, which included a handful of former and would-be GAA presidents in the late Joe McDonagh, Peter Quinn, Nickey Brennan and Christy Cooney, consulted 3,800 "interested parties".

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They produced a 264-page document that considered splitting Dublin in two and experimenting with 13-a-side teams in football. It also floated the idea of Croke Park being used for other sports, years before the stadium was officially opened for soccer and rugby matches.

What was the document?

The review recommended that Dublin get special attention in a variety of ways. At the time, there were concerns that other sports were investing heavily in the capital and research at the time showed fewer young people were choosing Gaelic games as their sport of choice.

"The situation is further compounded by the fact that the main competitor organisations are investing significant amounts of money in marketing their games aggressively - including in schools where previously Gaelic games were the dominant sports," read the report.

It proposed splitting the county in two for administration purposes and for county football, but wanted Dublin to remain as a single unit for inter-county hurling.

Essentially, the GAA was going to war to win hearts and minds in the capital and they were preparing to dig deep in their pockets to fund it.

Why is it in the news now?

The issue has always been beneath the surface, but has popped up again after Dublin strolled to a ninth consecutive Leinster football title.

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On the recommendations of the SRC's report, Dublin have been funded well in excess of other counties.

The latest figures show that Dublin have received €17,916,477 between 2007 and 2018. Next on the list are Cork with €1,434,287. Fermanagh received the least in that period, picking up just €634,173.

And as Dublin continue to lay waste to the rest of the province, questions are being asked as to why a county, capable of raising more revenue than anyone else, is being funded in this way.

That funding has allowed the county to hire 54 games promotion officers (GPOs), three regional development officers, a hurling development officer and football development officer. Clubs pay 50 per cent of monies to GPOs.

How does that compare with other counties and what difference does it make?

The most recent figures available showed that Cork had six coaches working across both codes in the county, although that is expected to increase. Roscommon, who played Dublin in the 'Super 8s' last year, have four GPOs. If you accept that GPOs are effectively 'recruiters', then the advantages of having coaches stationed across the city are clear.

Over the period in question, Dublin CEO John Costello revealed that participation rates rose by 58 per cent in football and 98 per cent in hurling. The broader the base of the pyramid, the higher it can be built. Dublin's base is broader than it has ever been.

Is that the full picture?

Not quite. The GAA also hands out money for capital projects. For example, Cork picked up €1.3m in 2018 for Páirc Uí Chaoimh's redevelopment while Dublin received no funding under that heading. That figure ensured more money went to Leeside that year (€2.1m) than Dublin (€1.9m). The counterpoint to that is that the Dublin footballers have effectively made Croke Park their home ground and therefore don't need to redevelop a stadium, while Parnell Park is still big enough to host their hurlers.

However it's worth noting that any potential development in the capital will cost Dublin multiples of what it would be elsewhere, due to the price of land and labour.

How much of an issue is it in Dublin's current run of success in football?

Dublin GAA people have become increasingly irritated that the funding discrepancy is used to run down the achievements of the current side. Former Dublin star Ciarán Whelan pointed out many of the current successful side were almost out of school before this money started pouring in.

However, finance can be central to success and no one is better equipped to fund its teams, and therefore any other activity, than Dublin.

Figures from 2017 show they earned €1.46m in commercial revenue, more than twice that of Cork in second. The effect of such backing is impossible to quantify but former Offaly manager Pat Flanagan suggested in 2016 that he'd love the opportunity to find out.

"Let's be honest here - the ones spending the most money are the ones at the top of table, there is no point in saying otherwise. Now, I'm not going to get a blank cheque, but it would be an interesting project."

Are there any other factors at play?

Absolutely. Even by their own lofty standards, this is a golden age for Dublin football. John Costello is widely acknowledged as one of the best administrators in the country. Jim Gavin has also shown himself to be one of the game's greatest managers. Winning at this rate is almost impossible to maintain, but it's unlikely they'll experience a famine to match just one All-Ireland success between 1983 and 2011.

Is this just an anti-Dublin tirade?

There'll certainly be those who feel that way, but regardless of the metric used to analyse the level of funding Dublin have received, it's over and above what the rest got. It also continues long after the SRC's fears of the GAA being muscled out of the capital by other sports have been allayed.

What's next?

Other projects like the one started in Dublin are in operation, but are in their infancy. The GAA's financial report from 2018 stated that 35 new coaches were deployed across Louth, Meath, Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford as part of the new East Leinster Coaching Programme, while there's also a £1m plan to reinvigorate Gaelic games in Belfast.

Dublin's money has been pulled back slightly in recent years but there's no appetite to take money directly from Dublin and invest elsewhere.

"I think it is moving in a progressive way. More money is going into counties outside of Dublin," GAA president John Horan said yesterday.

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