The last 7 years has been the most successful period in history for Dublin GAA. Since Stephen Cluxton’s iconic match winning kick in the dying seconds of the 2011 All-Ireland final, the Jackeens have romped to 5 All-Ireland titles in 7 years. It’s been a glorious era for the capital city, and with the current side in line for a four in a row, that shows no signs of abating.
Ever since the issue of Dublin winning went from being an anomaly, to a formality, the question of why they’ve been so successful has been posed. Some state that it’s just a superbly talented, expertly managed team, that has reached its potential. Others believe that the county has been grossly aided by the powers that be in order to rise to the top.
For sure Dublin has received plenty of funding from the GAA and government, but has it been disproportionate? Well, let’s try and get a handle on these figures for a second. According to the last census completed in 2016 the population of Ireland is 4,761,865. The population of Northern Ireland meanwhile is believed to be around the 1.87 million mark. That gives a total population on the island of around 6.65 million.
The population of our country’s capital is about 1.35 million. It’s not an exact science, as there are any number of foreigners on this island who wouldn’t know what a hurl or O’Neill’s football is, and any number of Ulster unionists who would rather eat parts of their own anatomies than play our games, but given Dublin has roughly one quarter or one fifth of our population, you would expect the capital to get, I don’t know, maybe one quarter or one fifth of the funding then wouldn’t you? That’s where you’d be wrong though.
Last week the government revealed the 1,700 sporting projects that will benefit from a 56 million euro grant allocation under the sports capital programme (https://www.balls.ie/gaa/sporting-grants-breakdown-show-massive-weighting-towards-dublin-gaa-clubs-378685). It is of particular interest with regards to grants given to GAA clubs in Dublin.
The figures show that 10 Dublin GAA clubs got the maximum grant allocation of 150,000. Now how many other clubs across the rest of the country got the same amount? Given Dublin has around 20%-25% of the population you would expect to see maybe 30 other clubs get a similar amount? Or 40? No, it’s 1. Yes, you read that correctly, one club in the rest of the country, Sean O’Mahony’s in Louth, was given the highest grant available, while 10 clubs in Dublin were given it. So are the GAA saying that Dublin is ten times as important as the rest of the country COMBINED when it comes to GAA funding?
This comes on top of the GAA’s awarded grants, that also overwhelmingly favour Dublin. Last year the capital received 1,463,000 euro in games development funding. The next highest county is Cork with 249,000. Now Dublin’s population is around two and a half times the size of Cork. But does it necessarily need six times the amount of funding that Cork does? Particularly seeing as it’s thriving at national level anyway?
Now maybe Dublin would have been successful no matter what. Their huge population is always going to have an impact. Also, the Dublin county board, led by the likes of John Costelloe did a great job in the 00’s of making the GAA a more attractive proposition for children and the grassroots drive had a profound impact. But do we really need to put them on a pedestal over every other county in the country, including some of whom are struggling the most?
I’m not saying that it’s not important that the GAA is strong in the capital. I’m not saying that this isn’t a special Dublin team with some of the greatest players in the history of the game playing for them. But for anyone in the city thinking that “it’s a level playing field” they’re playing on, and they’re not getting any extra help from the government or sponsors to win, well, they’re deluding themselves.
According to a piece in the Irish independent released earlier this year, (https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/dublin-announce-latest-sponsorship-deal-as-they-secure-subaru-as-official-car-partner-35374421.html) Dublin already have 14 official sponsors for their county teams covering topics from kit and hydration to Airline (and why a GAA team needs an airline partner, bar for expensive overseas training camps, is beyond me) At the other end of the scale we have the likes of Leitrim who are struggling to get 15,000 for a sponsorship deal. Now maybe given Leitrim’s population base they would never be able to compete anyway. But they sure as hell won’t be, if the cash is being injected the way it has been thus far.
And that’s just taking the county sides into consideration without mentioning anything that’s happening with clubs. Take the example of the Kilmacud Crokes hurling club recently. They had Ollie Baker, a highly prominent All-Ireland winning hurler with Clare in charge of them until a few weeks ago when Anthony Daly was announced as the new coach of the team. Now Anthony Daly is one of the most serious hurling men in the country. He did a great job managing the Dublin senior team for a few seasons. But is he really going to come all the way from West Clare each week to take charge of a Dublin club side? How is it possible for him to do that, unless there are some massive expenses being paid? And who is paying for those expenses?
It just leads into the belief that the money being pumped into the GAA in Dublin is totally disproportionate to everyone else. But where would that lead eventually? What’s to be gained if the funding eventually became so lop-sided towards Dublin that the capital were cruising to All-Irelands in both codes each year? Sure the games might be more popular than ever in the capital, but you could imagine viewers from the rest of the country switching off in their droves.
People complained when Kerry and Kilkenny stormed their way to All-Irelands, but at least then it was based on exceptional players, management and an incredible drive. With Dublin, sure there are top class players and manager, but it’s also to do with the size of the population and, most importantly, the GAA and government grants being stacked massively in their favour.
So what’s to be done about it? Well allocate the resources more evenly for one thing. Spend money on improving the levels of funding in the weaker counties, the Carlow’s, Wicklow’s, Longford’s and Leitrim’s of this world, before automatically pumping more and more money into Dublin. There may need to be a two tier championship in football down the line, considering Dublin’s population is around 40 or 50 times the size of Leitrim, that’s completely understandable. But if they’re already benefitting massively from playing size, you don’t need to massively overcompensate their levels of funding as well.
We know that the cost of land is much higher in Dublin than in anywhere else, anyone who is trying to rent a room in the city would know that, but why are the GAA and the government feeding the beast? Surely, given the limited land mass that is around Dublin anyway, they should be trying to build up other cities: Cork and the surrounding areas, Galway, Waterford. If you want Dublin to be successful, fine. But don’t complain if the rest of the country turns off while they do so.
You also have to question if there will be a backlash in Dublin from players who may be more than capable of getting a game with other teams across the country, but due to the excessive playing numbers in Dublin, have no hope of getting game time. There may have to be a parent or grandparent rule brought into the GAA to let players, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to play for their native club or county, get the time their efforts deserve from some other team.
Maybe I’m sounding a bit too much like Joe Brolly and Colm O’Rourke here and predicting a doomsday scenario where the GAA is just dominated by a few counties (well, one) but I’m starting to think that the old cranks may have a point. Perhaps this is all being a bit premature, and in future the level of success and funding across the organization will just even itself out. But if the funding continues in such a vein and in ten years time, Dublin are eating every other team in sight in both codes, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.