Sunday 16 June 2019

Dublin answer €6m question

Former Blues hurling boss Kelleher insists it is the quality of the coaching and not just the cash that has produced the big capital gains

Dublin's hurlers celebrate winning the National
League crown with a thumping victory over
Kilkenny in May
Dublin's hurlers celebrate winning the National League crown with a thumping victory over Kilkenny in May
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

If it was a business, then the shiny press release would already have been dispatched through cyberspace.

Good news stories are seized upon quickly and with Dublin competing in five of the six mainstream All-Ireland semi-finals over the next three weeks, it is an opportune time to examine the basis for the capital's success.

Through a special budget measure, agreed during the presidency of Sean Kelly, close to €1m a year for the last six years has been given to the GAA by the Irish Sports Council (ISC) to fund the running of projects in Dublin GAA alone.

Given the success of Dublin teams across all levels so far this season, the temptation might have been strong for the ISC to hitch itself to the Dublin wagon and make the money link. But there are too many sensitivities involved for grandstanding.

Dublin GAA is, after all, a fertile ground and the success of the teams is the most tangible reward for the investment of time and money.

Those involved at the coalface bristle, however, at the notion that it is money which has been the springboard for hurling's blue revolution in particular.

"A complete misnomer," argues Humphrey Kelleher, former manager and a guiding light in the very active 'Friends of Dublin Hurling' movement.

"People think it's a case of 'firing money' at Dublin hurling and that is the answer to everything, the reason why there's been improvement. Nonsense.

"Any money that Dublin hurling has got for coaches has been on an equal footing to football and it has only allowed hurling to bridge the gap that already existed," he says.

"Hurling (people) would make no apology for that. For too long it got the poor end of the stick. All the game ever needed was parity and, thankfully, it is achieving that."

Yet the perception away from the capital is that Dublin hurling is the GAA's 'pet project' and that anything that can be done to make it succeed will be done. The money issue rankles in places like Wexford, a county which has felt the heat of much stronger Dublin teams across all levels in recent years.

Their argument is that if the same resources were put into Wexford hurling that have been put into Dublin over the last number of years, the same results might accrue.

But that ignores the wider argument that every GAA member must embrace. If the GAA loses the battle in Dublin, where almost 30pc of the country's children are now born, then it could eventually lose the war.

"Money has helped, but it is only a fragment by comparison to the commitment and enthusiasm of the people and the structures put in place by the board and the clubs," says Kelly.

It was one of his priorities to nourish hurling when he came into office in 2003 and he immediately set up a high-powered Hurling Development Committee that included such figures as Liam Griffin and Ger Loughnane.

They sought state money for hurling projects, and for Dublin specifically, from a Government that was flush at the time. Kelly credits then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Minister for Sport John O'Donoghue for their willingness to listen to the argument that Dublin was a special needs case for the GAA.

"We were essentially pushing an open door with them. Bertie's love of Gaelic games is well known and John O'Donoghue also appreciated what was required. The population of Dublin demanded specific action by the GAA at the time. It was -- and still remains -- a special case," says Kelly.

"But Dublin hurling, in particular, was already reorganising itself by the time these special budgetary measures were agreed.

"Through the work of Cumann na mBunscoil, through people like Tom Fitzpatrick, there was a lot happening."

Still the additional funding for all Dublin GAA activities led to a proliferation of coaches across the capital in recent times and there are now approximately 50 employed on close to a 'one per club' basis. It is the envy of almost every other county now with the obvious exceptions.

Half the cost of a games promotion officer is met by the club they're attached to, the rest comes from the combined resources provided by the GAA through the Sports Council, Leinster Council and Dublin County Board itself.

Some clubs like Kilmacud Crokes and Ballyboden St Enda's, because of their sheer numbers, have a second GPO that they fund entirely themselves.

Dublin County Board's strategic programme manager Kevin O'Shaughnessy, like Kelleher, grows tired of the perception that it is money which has made the difference to Dublin hurling and consequently Dublin GAA.

"The biggest contributors are not the ISC or the GAA or even Dublin GAA. The biggest cheques are written by the clubs themselves," he says.

"The coaches work very much in tune with what the particular club wants. They are all trained to Hetac Level 7 under an NUIG programme. It is a high standard that allows them to train the trainers in each club to a high quality."

This year alone Dublin will see a 10pc increase on 2010 figures in the number of hurling teams from U-8 to U-16, jumping from 546 to 602.

In 2003, between football teams from U-9 upwards and hurling teams from U-11 upwards, there were 620 teams combined. In 2010, with the starting point at U-8 level, there was 1359 teams. The scale is enormous.

"Admittedly, the numbers on a team are smaller in accordance with GAA policy, seven-a-side for U-8s up to 15-a-side for U-16s.

"But that's twice as many fixtures, twice as many mentors, twice as many referees, much more administration and many, more participants in football and hurling," says O'Shaughnessy.

O'Shaughnessy makes his point well about the benefit of a successful Dublin to the GAA in general.

"If Gaelic games does not punch its weight in the capital city then the implications are significant. I'd guess that the difference in gate receipts for the two All-Ireland football semi-finals in the coming weeks will be close to €1m. There were over 60,000 tickets sold for last Saturday's quarter-final. It is vital for the GAA that Dublin remains strong."

The Dublin games manager, Tyrone native Ger O'Connor, agrees.

"You hear it all the time about money and resources being put into Dublin, but anyone wearing their GAA hat would have to say that it is only right that the association pursues participation in the biggest population area.

"The coaches don't just concentrate on hurling or football. They organise everything within a club and camogie and ladies football get the benefit too.

"And it benefits having a clear programme of games for about 40 weekends of the year, football one weekend, hurling the next. It doesn't give players a reason to drift to other sports which was the priority of the initial drive in the first place. There are very few clubs, two or three, that are exclusively hurling or football how."

For Kelleher it is the quality of the coaching and the geography of the new breed of Dublin hurlers that has made the difference.

"You have the likes of Naomh Barrog now contributing hurlers to Dublin teams. They are senior. Places like Ballinteer St John's, Huntsown, Palmerston, Castleknock -- where you would have associated with a college and a tennis club.

"That's not all achieved by simply throwing money their direction. It's commitment and a clear blueprint.

"But above everything it is the quality of the coaching that has made the biggest difference."

Irish Independent

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