Dublin, Funding and Tiers…
Twitter is such an angry place. Between all the rage and the character restriction there isn’t much room for reasoned comment. Much easier to throw out barbs, attack others, create a twitter storm and stand back and snigger at the damage done to personal reputations There’s been a lot of raw emotion expressed and criticism of the state of football and the dominance of the Dubs. Much of it is justified but it often misses the target.
Here are some of my thoughts for what they’re worth.
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 24 miles 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 breath of Ireland following Heffos 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 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.
The founders of the GAA, way back in 1884, were literally 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 of 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 was no clubs present at all. The GAA was losing the battle for hearts and minds.
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 Review Committee had put forward the document for acceptance in its entirety but that did not happen and surprisingly there was support at national and provincial level to provide the necessary 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 in the Association. 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; a phenomenal bunch, grounded, focused, hard working, dedicated and talented. They have been incredible Champions and look certs to win the 5 in a row. No one can begrudge them if they do. They have set new standards that the chasing pack 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 is a uniform denial of the impact.
Allied to the other advantages of population, of location, of infra structure, 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 farsighted at the time and it was the correct decision at that time. 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 grass roots 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 teams preparations,
We are probably getting a better return now for our investment because it is so concentrated!
Possibly the best outcome would now be to identify the 2/3 key issues affecting the GAA in selected counties for short term investment and moving on then after a period to another 2/3 priority areas in different counties.
Withdrawing the funding could jeopardise coaching positions across Dublin clubs, although with Dublins 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 borne 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?
Croke Park has decided to push the introduction of a tiered championship as if this was the solution to all our problems. Last Sunday should have sent a message back that there is only one team in Tier One and the rest can compete in Tier Two. It is not the answer and will do much damage to inter county football down the divisions. Football is much more balanced across the country than hurling and there is a vibrant club scene in all counties. We do not need a tiered championship.
Many desire to provide all teams with a realistic chance of winning and the opportunity to play a final in Croke Park.
As though winning was all that mattered. It isn’t – surely its the will to win that matters? It’s about getting the best out of yourself and competing at as high a level as possible, its about testing yourself against the best. There is only ever one winner – it doesn’t mean everyone else is a failure.
And if we think a little deeper about that, how realistic is that claim about a chance to win silverware? The likelihood is that the Tier 2 or Tier 3 Championship will be dominated by the teams competing at the top end of Division 2/3. There is a real possibility that counties like my own will never play in a Tier 3 final or maybe do so once in a lifetime but will loose out on the great days that we had over the past few years. Is it worth that trade off? I don’t think so.
Almost all Carlow players would not swap those brilliant days we experienced in recent years for a B competition played in front of empty terraces- and make no mistake the Final will not remain on All Ireland Final Day, as touted, once introduced. The focus of those in favour of this tiered structure is always on a packed Croke Park where these finals will be played as a curtain raiser. But no one mentions all the other games played before sparse attendances, shunned by supporters, barely covered by an over stretched media (they can’t be everywhere!) and the 14 teams that don’t make the Final!
For those advocating the Tiers, we already play these teams every year in the league – we don’t need a duplicate competition, in a GAA version of Groundhog Day, that will not do anything to develop players or county teams. In fact it is likely that this competition will be loss making for the counties involved and require subsidisation – more funding required, more fund-raising by county squads (for those in Dublin, that’s one of the additional demands country lads face, along with those long commutes!). The magic of the Championship is the one off nature of the fixtures, the opportunity to take out a big name.
Going back tot the analogy of the camel, GAA competition structures tend to be camel like too; our Championship consists of knock out, back door and league elements! We are always tinkering with strictures to accommodate the ‘what ifs’ – take the relegation arrangements around Leinster and Munster SHC games. We can’t have it all! As my eldest son, temporarily domiciled in the Phillipines keeps telling me, KFS!
The GAA must decide if is is for elitism or not. If it is, it will inevitably concentrate on the top 4/6 teams and forget about the remainder because counties cannot sustain the level of expenditure.
Adding in Super 8s and Tiers is only adding to the costs. We cannot generate the income to compete over a longer season.
If we cannot generate the revenue we need to look at our cost base. And reduce it.
That will mean a more condensed inter county season and less games, not more – better timing of competitions can achieve the same outcome and address many of the issues.
Why should counties (or the GPA) have to travel to the US to raise funds for an amateur sport – robbing the local organisation of potential sponsorship? It’s mad stuff.
The most important competition we have is the League. It’s a brilliant competition played at the wrong time of year.
The current Championship structures favour the strong by giving them a second bite of the cherry should they be beaten. A return to a knockout championship will restore competitiveness and if it is run concurrently with the NFL we could reduce the playing season, reduce the cost of preparations, improve the chances of upsets in the Championships, attract much larger crowds to Friday night league games – played in good weather, improve the calendar for club activity and perhaps save the endangered species that is the dual player…….
It may not be perfect but surely deserving of consideration and possible tweaking….Dublin