Dublin's Darren Gavin and Andy McDonnell of Louth during last year's O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, clash in the Leinster SFC. (Pic: David Mullen)
Soccer writer Miguel Delaney claimed in a recent article that European football’s ‘super clubs’ “don’t want too many Leicester Citys” and so are divvying the obscene finances between themselves is a way in which to protect the established order.
It’s very much like what Unionists did in the North for decades, gerrymandering constituencies to ensure they retained maximum dominance, with those subject to the discrimination having no way to break the cycle.
Professional sport, like society, is infected by politics and the outcome is ruthless. It’s a rife example of the ultimate negative of capitalism, whereby the rich, making up less than one percent of the overall membership, get richer and the rest are left to make do with what little is left. Funny, the same could be said of the GPA and what they represent.
Last week GAA Director General Tom Ryan branded the organisation’s current spending culture as unsustainable, with figures showing expenditure on senior county teams having risen by €10 million in as many years, to an eye-watering €29.9 million. It’s unhealthy and, in a sport based on amateurism, quite frankly disgusting.
But instead of cut, cut, cut, the reaction appears to be more, more, more. Just see what GPA CEO Paul Flynn had to say afterwards, demanding almost that the players get an even bigger slice of the income. Higher expenses et al.
Common sense would recommend a dramatic reduction in the length of the inter-county campaign, but as per the outlook of business capitalists, that would reduce income potentially as much as the increasing outlay, ie. a ‘no, no’.
There was a fabulous report in Saturday’s Independent, breaking down the spends of every county in the last two years. Louth, typically, are lodged at the foot of the standings.
In 2019, the county stumped a bill of €392,871, which was the second-lowest of the 32 counties, only above Leitrim by a few thousand. Twelve months prior and The Wee County was bottom of the finance pile, having written off just over €374,000. Louth were beaten in the early rounds of both the Leinster Championship and All-Ireland qualifiers in each of seasons.
Of the top 12 on the spending table, only Armagh, who built a bill of almost €980,000, have failed to win a provincial title or reach an All-Ireland final, in either football or hurling, in the last five years.
The bottom 10, Louth inclusive, meanwhile is made up of counties whose success has only been relative, like, for example, The Reds reaching Division Two, only to be demoralised, or Fermanagh getting to an Ulster final in which they were hammered. Bar Monaghan, Gaelic football’s great enigma, who, courtesy of failing to reach football’s Super 8s series, reduced their spending by over €100k, the rest are in a doorless, hopeless corridor.
What chance have Leitrim or Sligo got in Connacht, with Mayo, Roscommon and Galway in the aforementioned leading dozen? They will never win another provincial crown. Leinster, well that’s already a write-off, so more and more teams within the jurisdiction are striving to achieve something which is impossible. Burning money pointlessly as a consequence.
And the GAA are feeding this growth towards the model of the leading European soccer clubs. Allowing Dublin to launch a corporate partnership with Mitsubishi this week, while Louth’s players are the fortunate beneficiaries of a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a matching top, is like pitting Barcelona in a league with Accrington Stanley and expecting the League One club to prevail.
Just over €88,000 of Dublin’s income of €2.258 million was as a result of fundraising, the remainder stemming from financial deals. Roscommon, on the other hand, are doing incredible work in keeping pace to a degree, over €1.13 million of their €1.6 million worth of income is a result of Gaels’ money gathering.
But the pyramid gradually thins as you scroll down through the respective counties to find Louth propping everybody else up. It’s well documented that only €10,132 of Louth’s 2019 income of €134,000 came from fundraising. And yet people are still willing to stand up at meetings and criticise players, management and their input into a desperate sequence of results.
This county is being failed by the direction the GAA is headed, but Louth must look at its own position in regard to the slump too. Repeated regimes of self-interest has drained stakeholders of interest and is why we, as a county, are in the position we are.
Ten years of negligence and mismanagement has coincided with a worsening situation that could take equally long to get out of, notwithstanding the strong intentions of Peter Fitzpatrick and the football development committee he has pieced together.
We see the tremendous work the house draw delegation is doing to make a success of the stadium project in Dundalk, which will hopefully be a portent of a brighter future for Louth GAA. But isn’t it an awful pity that such ventures weren’t explored before to give the present group of Wee County seniors - in both codes - a better chance?
There is a theory that sponsors were unwilling to be associated with previous County Boards due to their reputation. Now, we’ll see if the clear-out has the desired effect. If it doesn’t, though, executive members must be willing to chase it.
They wouldn’t have to as much if the GAA would do the noble thing and reduce the inter-county calendar, while putting strict caps in place to encourage a more level playing field. They won’t, though, with Croke Park chiefs being the world’s best at reactionary measures.
But haven’t Louth GAA’s guardians been as well? This issue surrounding finance and its muscle within the game in this county has long been problematic, and yet the nettle has never been grasped. It doesn’t look as though, despite Ryan’s statement, that the level of spending required to compete is going to relax, so we’re just going to have to get with the times, or else forget about bothering altogether.
Half measures are of no use. The options are straight-forward, cry at County Board meetings, or dip into deeper pockets. If you can’t beat then, join them.