Tuesday 15 October 2019

Turlough O'Brien: 'It is disappointing and patronising to hear Dublin's success credited solely to volunteers'

Redistributing money to where it's needed would boost struggling counties

Between a Rock and a hard place: Dublin’s Dean Rock has a shot blocked by Carlow’s Seán
Murphy during the Leinster SFC clash between the two teams in 2017. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Between a Rock and a hard place: Dublin’s Dean Rock has a shot blocked by Carlow’s Seán Murphy during the Leinster SFC clash between the two teams in 2017. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Turlough O'Brien

This is not an anti-Dublin rant. Some of my earliest heroes were the Dublin players of the 1970s. I remember searching Carlow Town as a kid for the Dublin outfit and not finding it, cycling a 24-mile round trip to Athy to purchase a Dublin jersey, shorts and socks! It might surprise Dubliners to know they had many admirers outside the Pale - I knew of one Fighting Cocks man who travelled the length and breadth of Ireland following Heffo's Army.

The turn of the millennium was an ideal opportunity for the GAA to reflect on the needs of the Association in a rapidly-changing Ireland. Former GAA president Peter Quinn (our best ever president?) chaired the Strategic Review Committee that produced a really thought-provoking analysis of the GAA and its place in Irish society and what the future needs might be.

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The founders of the GAA, way back in 1884, were operating in a different era and if they were starting all over again in 2000 I am sure they would have thought long and hard about the decision-making structures to guide the Association in achieving its aims.


If it's true that a camel is a horse designed by a committee then the GAA is surely the sporting equivalent - an organisation catering for such diverse interests as parishes, clubs, counties, provinces, hurling and football.

Of course a camel is a brilliantly efficient animal to survive in harsh deserts and likewise the GAA has thrived despite its many disparate parts and interests.

Change is never easy and, in a national institution like the GAA, it is almost impossible to achieve an agreed outcome to so many issues that bedevil the organisation.

When the Strategic Review was under way the Committee recognised the unique circumstances of the Association in the capital city. With a quarter of the population of this island living within the county boundaries, penetration by the GAA was very low. In fact, there were large tracts of the capital where there were no clubs at all. The GAA was losing the battle for hearts and minds.

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The powers that be recognised the gravity of the problem and a number of proposals were made to address the issues. Among them was a proposal to split the county in two and a recognition that a massive financial injection was needed to achieve the objectives of growing participation numbers, improving administration and coaching structures.

The committee put forward the document for acceptance in its entirety but that didn't happen and surprisingly there was support at national and provincial level to provide funding to tackle the status of the GAA in the capital without the proposed division of the county.

The proposal to split the county was considered off the wall by many. Dublin County Board, to their credit, have invested the funding wisely and are harvesting the rewards in terms of their utter dominance at inter-county level. Let me acknowledge too the incredible talent in this present-day Dublin side; a phenomenal bunch, grounded, focused, hard-working, dedicated and talented. They have been incredible champions and look certs to win the five-in-a-row. No one can begrudge them if they do. They have set new standards that the rest are finding hard to match.

In this era of fake news, it is disappointing and patronising to hear Dublin's success credited solely to volunteers as though all other counties are bereft of equally devoted members and players - and that the funding has no impact. If that claim is true, it has been money poorly spent. But that Trumpism is patently false. It is disappointing that the public utterances of our top officials involve a uniform denial of the impact.

Allied to the other advantages of population, of location, of infrastructure, of Croke Park as home venue, of corporate sponsorship, Dublin has turned into a monster that is now out of control and it is surely time for another Strategic Review to recalibrate the financial advantage bestowed on Dublin by the other 31 counties.

If our counties were member states of the EU, Dublin would be Germany; should Dublin now be a net contributor to the overall Association budget?

Croke Park and Leinster Council are taking a lot of flak for this imbalance and some of it is deserved - it isn't right for the other counties to be underwriting the investment in Dublin at this stage. But it was far-sighted at the time and it was the correct decision then. They deserve credit for that and add in the monies invested across the Association and we get a truer picture of the good work done by the powers that be.

Leinster Council has been getting a hammering of late but I believe it is very harsh; the provincial councils are much closer to the grassroots and certainly provide far greater coach education and development. However, no one cried halt.

What to do now though is the question. Redistributing Dublin's annual financial injection among the other 31 counties would reduce the impact by the time it is distributed pro rata. I think it could be quickly gobbled up by county team preparations.

Possibly the best outcome now would be to identify the two/three key issues affecting the GAA in selected counties for short-term investment and moving on then after a period to another two/three priority areas in different counties.

Withdrawing the funding could jeopardise coaching positions across Dublin clubs, although with Dublin's commercial clout it is very possible that they can replace the loss of the funding with alternate commercial sources.

I don't think we can throw any more money at the problem of inter-county preparations - it has turned into an arms race and all teams are spending ridiculous amounts of money to chase success which seems as elusive as ever. Only one team can win the All Ireland in any year - and for the moment it really is only one team.

Part of the problem we face today is that there does not appear to be a strategy in play. We seem to be reactionary.

Brendan Behan once said that the first item on any republican agenda was the split. I think the same could be said for any unit of the GAA. Like it or not, we have created official splits in the GAA through the GPA and the CPA.


There should never have been a need for these organisations to be formed but they were born of necessity because the voice of the ordinary member has been lost in the democratic bureaucracy of the Association.

We have competing demands for more inter-county games, a better club fixture programme, unnatural expectations of our players and team officials and ever-increasing expenditure on county teams.

Why are we discussing a tiered championship in isolation - which will increase the number of inter-county games while on the other hand discussing a fairer club fixture programme with the CPA? These are conflicting objectives. We have added in the 'Super 8s' and the new hurling structures and now we decide we need to do something for our clubs.

What is the end goal?

What type of organisation do we want?

Are we fulfilling our aims and objectives or have they changed?

Are we for elitism or for mass participation - or is there a balance we can achieve to ensure the rude good health of the Association into the future?

Turlough O'Brien is manager of the Carlow footballers. This is an extract from his original blog, posted on rotharroutes.com/blog/

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