As the National League comes to a close for another year, soon all we will hear about is who is capable of taking down the Dubs. Will it be Tyrone or Donegal in Ulster? Ccan Mayo come back and break their duck or will Kerry put it together once again to sit at the top table?
It has become all too familiar in the last few years and you just can’t see a team come from nowhere to take down one of the big boys. Yes, I know Tipperary had a good year last year but they didn’t win anything and regardless of all the hype and backslapping it’s not until you walk the steps and pick up either provincial or All-Ireland silverware can you suggest that you had a good year.
Too often we are selling dreams of championship success on the history of the past, but if we are totally honest and realistic there are about five teams who have any chance of winning the football championship and maybe three or four teams in the hurling; that’s it and some of them is at a stretch.
In 2015 county boards sanctioned spending of close to €22 euro in preparing their sides for championship. The figures were released by Croke Park recently and showed a worrying trend. In 2001 the combined total spending for county teams was under €9 million, so in the last 15 years it has gone up by 150 per cent, give or take a few bob.
There is a number of questions you would have to ask about such savage spending. First of all, is it sustainable, especially in rural counties where county boards are under serious pressure to provide even the basics to keep the games going? Does it give the wealthier counties an unfair advantage? Of course it gives them an advantage as they are able to prepare their teams with the best care that money can buy but also they can look after those giving of their time. If they are wise and good with their money they can also plan for the future by putting more coaching expertise into the schools and, of course, the clubs.
Is it unfair? You could argue that that’s sport; it’s the way it always has been. There are very few times in a team sport you will have the same hand dealt to both sides, so you just get on with that and sometimes David will slay Goliath but more often than not Goliath comes out on top.
But is that the biggest concern when it comes to that huge level of spending? There will come a point where county boards will reflect and say to themselves that we cannot win a provincial title or get to the stage where we can compete for All-Ireland success, so would we be better investing in a long term plan and forget about a couple of generations in order to get to the top table in maybe 20 years’ time.
Can you ever see that happening? Have we got people in county boards who, first of all, have the foresight but also have the strength of character to see it through? Imagine the pressure that they would come under and also would it is fair on the present players? Of course not, but for some of those county boards they need to change their approach instead of throwing good money, year after year, down the drain.
Croke Park and those who have the responsibility for running our games need to put motions in place to help those counties. I am not going to get into the argument of weaker and stronger counties as it’s important to realise that your fortunes can change overnight in terms of success. Look at the likes of Cork, Down and even Derry football, who looked to be on the upward spiral only a few years ago. Now they’re struggling to stay in Division Two.
Of course everyone will point to the money the likes of Dublin are able to take in. However, their investment in both their hurling and football teams is not that much more than the likes of Cork and considering in 2015 Dublin had huge success at all age groups in both hurling and football their investment seems like money well spent.
In 2015 the Dublin county board spent just over €1.5 million. Many of the rural counties can only dream of being able to spend such vast amounts on their teams and in order for them to survive they have to depend on their clubs to help with their finances. This, in turn, has a huge knock-on effect on the clubs and puts increasing pressure on those who volunteer to keep things going. Such responsibility comes at a huge cost with many GAA members reluctant to get involved.
You could suggest that Croke Park could involve themselves more in helping the rural counties in securing lucrative sponsorship deals but also that the monies would not all go in the preparation of adult teams but to the future coaching and betterment of those that keep the games going at club level. Make their job easier; we are turning people away because of the workload they are faced with when they get involved, both at club and county board level. But the lure and dream of success will always come before any realistic or comprehensive plans, which are not sport.
Like most of the country, I was watching Ireland play Wales last Friday night and shocked at the tackle that injured Seamie Coleman. Whether or not it was malicious or intentional is of course no comfort to Seamie and his family. I have no doubt he will turn his attention on getting back to his very best and talk of anything else will be quickly dispelled. It’s his nature and it’s why he has achieved so much.