Sport Hurling

Tuesday 12 December 2017

A million reasons for Tipp to succeed

Premier men can justify hefty spending with priceless victory over Cody's Cats

colm keys

In Palmerstown House yesterday on the outskirts of Naas, 50 teams lined up at €800 apiece to play the superb PGA National golf course and raise funds -- through the vehicle of the Tipperary supporters' club -- for the senior hurling team's training fund.

At a time of great financial austerity, such a gathering underlined that some things, at least, are recession-proof and that the heart can rule the head when it comes to participating teams in an All-Ireland final.

The golf classic follows a draw in the county that raised €80,000 over the last few weeks for the same purpose.

The template for such ventures in Tipperary had its genesis in Babs Keating's appointment as manager in the mid-1980s and has stood the test of time well.

All told, fund-raising for the team this year could top €250,000, quite a substantial figure in these challenging times.

The money will punch a fair hole in the cost of running a squad and a system of preparation that Tipperary pride themselves on, allowing the management some independence financially from the board's treasury, even if the supporters' club funds are audited in the annual accounts.

From the latest in technology to the deployment of a well-known sports psychologist, right down to the quality of what they eat, Tipperary's management structures, in Liam Sheedy's time, have been determined to give their players the best in whatever they can. It has almost become their mission statement: provide the best and you'll get the best results.

They were one of the first and only inter-county GAA teams to embrace the concept offered by Statsports, a Dundalk-based company that provided GPS devices that track the movements of players and measure the distances they cover and at what pace they cover the distance over a particular time.

The technology provided useful information for Sheedy and the squad earlier in the season, but by the championship they had weaned themselves off it and after the Cork game, there was a noticeable back-to-basics policy adopted, which has paid dividends.

The use of statistics has been an important part of Tipp's arsenal with a dedicated analyst, former substitute goalkeeper Damien Young, using the best of software provided by the Galway-based company Avenir Sports. Young's work allows Tipperary to individually analyse each player and also focus on opposition strengths and weaknesses in fine detail.

For the last two years, Tipperary have taken sports psychologist Caroline Currid on board to give an additional edge to their back-room team.

Currid worked with Mickey Harte and Tyrone in 2008 and this year was involved with the Dublin footballers. With Tipperary, her work has been more on an individual, rather than a collective, basis.

Tipperary haven't spared anything when it comes to weekends away. Earlier this year, when the ash from the Icelandic volcano grounded them as they planned a warm-weather training week in Spain, they switched their plans to Carton House in Maynooth, where Real Madrid spent a pre-season training week in July 2009.

So impressed were they with Carton House that they have since returned twice over the season, prior to the Waterford match and again from Thursday to Saturday of last week.

Providing such facilities and services comes at a cost, which, so far, the Tipperary Board officers and supporters have been happy to meet.

Without doubt, there are few county teams around that can point to a more professional existence. Kilkenny also have a reputation for being one of the best looked-after teams around -- the relationship between long-serving official Ned Quinn and manager Brian Cody clearly being one of the best around.

Cody doesn't use a psychologist but has, in the past, invited guest speakers -- such as the former Meath footballer and eminent surgeon Gerry McEntee and Tyrone manager Harte -- to address his squad. Statistics are the preserve of selector Martin Fogarty, while a weekend away at some point of the season to Wexford is as far as they normally go.

The cost of preparing inter-county teams to this level has soared dramatically in recent years, with not even the economic downturn forcing some counties to apply the breaks.

There was understandable concern three years ago when the overall cost to county boards for preparing all inter-county teams crashed through the €20m barrier for the first time.

Efforts to rein in spending since then, however, appear to have failed, with the cumulative figure for all counties at the far side of €25m in the estimation of one senior Croke Park official.

The same official estimates that flagship (senior football and hurling) teams account for at least 80pc of that figure.

"In some cases, the figure could be as high as 90pc, entirely dedicated to the senior teams. Not everyone can say they are getting value for money for those figures," he added.

If some were suspicious of the implementation of a training moratorium for the months of November and December two years ago, for the purpose of saving boards the expense of pre-season training, it clearly has had little impact on the balance sheets.


In 2002, the overall figure for the preparation of inter-county teams was audited at €11.9m, but seven years on that has increased by approximately 120pc, based on the figure of €25m-plus given by Croke Park.

Breaking down the costs of an individual team is difficult, but, considering the average training session can cost up to €2,000 in a big county where there is significant travel involved (players are entitled to 50 cent in mileage expenses) -- add in the presence of at least one physio, two masseuses/masseurs and the catering costs -- and it's easy to see how the figures can spiral.

In Tipperary, they managed to trim their costs for preparing all their inter-county teams by €25,000 with more prudent spending and, of course, the absence of their minors from All-Ireland final day for the first time in three years.

But, with the footballers rising a division in the NFL again, that still didn't take them below the €1m barrier -- a figure that caused more than ripples of concern when it was first audited and presented at the 2008 convention.

"You won't have success without cost," treasurer Eamonn Buckley told delegates as a 46pc increase from 2007 was reported.

"We had an extended run in senior hurling, minor football and U-21 hurling. There are other expenses on top of that, such as stats, video analysis, medical expenses, physios, masseurs etc."

Former county board chairman Con Hogan said Tipperary's move through the €1m barrier should "set alarm bells ringing".

None of this will matter tomorrow evening or beyond, of course, if Tipperary can avert the course of history.

Irish Independent

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