Series examines GAA's value and values in changing world
Before Dara ó Cinnéide set off on his journey to look at the values of today's GAA, set against its commercial backdrop, through the lens of last year's championships, his preconception was that the Association was at a crossroads.
A year later, having put the finishing touches to a four-part series which airs for the first time on Monday night on RTé 1 at 8.30, he is sure this is not the case. It has long since blazed through that junction.
Kerry's former All-Ireland-winning captain now believes the GAA is on an inexorable path, that it can never U-turn and go back to where it was.
"Myself and Pat Comer over the course of the documentary started off with an assumption that we are at a crossroads here with the introduction of the 'Super 8s' and a new hurling format. It seemed the right time to examine this topic. But it is almost too definitive to say that. You're on a highway, a road, some kind of a path and it's not going back. As Eamonn Fitzmaurice says, if you get used to spending over a million on your county teams, you don't go back to spending half a million."
The series is an observation that ó Cinnéide accepts throws up more questions that it can actually answer.
They looked at the equation between money and success, value and values, population, whether the ingrained structures of club and county can serve the same purpose in the future and what resentment exists among those who are less resourced and far away from the elite corps.
Having put together 'GAA Nua', a four-part series that looked at the use of technology and sports science in Gaelic Games, 'GAA Eile' is an inevitable offspring. "That was one of the questions that arose in the last series. All this money being spent on technology but it's only the wealthy counties that can afford that. What about Leitrim? Who has the most money, what are they doing with it and how does that change them, how does it change their values? The thread running through the four episodes this time is value and values. We started watching Leitrim and New York and ask the question, 'How are they ever going to get to Croke Park? What was happening at home with Carlow Rising, a great story but how it is going to compete with the behemoth that is Dublin'."
ó Cinnéide admits having to set aside some prejudices to make the observations. His opposition to the broadcast agreement with Sky Sports was one while Dublin dominance is something he found himself looking at differently.
"There is this perception Dublin have the money, ergo they win All-Irelands. But is it that simple? How does it feel to be a club member in Dublin, there is no major revelation, they have massive numbers but they have their own challenges in terms of space but the values are still the same, great people involved in Dublin no more that Carlow or Kerry.
"Their passion isn't diminished just because there's a big population and well resourced. The point that the first programme makes, the more I see of this Dublin team I'm coming around to saying they are an exceptional bunch and the key question from the first episode is: how did it take Dublin this long to get this good?"
The quality of coaching and the people involved, he says, has helped him to understand that better. ó Cinnéide found himself thinking the change he initially felt was "disastrous" is, as the late John Hunt, the 98-year-old Chicago-based Limerick supporter who returned for last year's All-Ireland final but died just a few weeks ago, says in episode two is "inevitable."
"If you go along and ask these questions you say we can't stop change, but we can influence change and it's up to policy-makers in Croke Park to state a clear vision. For example, the historian Paul Rouse in one of the episodes said we need a stated vision, if it is to develop the inter-county game at the expense of the club game, why not state that very clearly. And let's move on.
"There will be criticism but it's not that simple to balance all these different acts. Yes, that dirty word money comes into a lot of what they do, the director-general Tom Ryan said we have to find a way to generate enough to do what it is we need to do as an organisation. The key question to that is, and Michael Duignan asked the question on TV last year, how much is enough? We don't answer that question, we can't put a figure on it, you just look at what's happening."