‘Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?’
Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd
It was back in the dark months of the year, a time they say today’s victories are forged in the shadows, that a couple of teammates from a club in the capital were shooting the breeze. They were rival intercounty players from Leinster and got talking about demands on bodies and minds. One, from down the country, said it was the little things. “They put so much stress on time. Like getting home exhausted and trying to make food that sticks to a diet we’re given, it’s hard.” The other, a Dublin player, looked baffled. “Oh,” he said, “we don’t have that problem.” As he explained, he was given his weekly intake, cooked and laid out to tick every box drawn up by their experts.
It’s just another example of how Dublin do everything to win. Over a decade ago, when Armagh were kicking down doors, the popular phrase was that it was a game of inches. For Dublin, it’s a game of centimetres and that’s the problem. Just because they do go to such lengths doesn’t mean others can. It’s why while last night the Leinster championship officially started, in reality it’s already over. It’s been over for some time, ever since Dublin started doing everything within their vast means to triumph and the association itself started doing everything it can to facilitate them.
That’s not Dublin’s fault but it is the GAA’s problem. As Longford chairman Brendan Gilmore told us during the week, before his side’s campaign threw in yesterday, “Sure look, we can’t compete, it’s as simple as that. Do you want to be beating Offaly and going up there to face Dublin? It’s daunting and Offaly don’t seem keen either. You’d wonder, after all the work we’ve done, if you win a game and face Dublin and lose by 20, that’s all that work undone so what’s the point?”
When we contacted Meath chairman Conor Tormey and asked to speak about the Dublin problem, his response was: “What problem is that?” It can give an impression that the rest of Leinster are like those wind-up toys, bouncing off a wall over and over until a helping hand faces them in different direction. But that’s a cop out when it comes to explaining Dublin’s dominance. Many are doing all they can and still seeing Dublin disappear over the horizon.
Of course we’ve been here before but unsolved murders involve returns to the scene of the crime. Firstly, the 10 other football counties of Leinster make up just 47 per cent of the Leinster football championship population. Secondly, basic marketing based on those figures mean only Dublin can cash in. “Sponsorship alone, we’ve essentially to go out begging, yet they’ll get money coming to them,” notes Wicklow chairman Martin Coleman. Endless amounts.
Everyone knows of the deal with AIG worth close to a million a year, but there’s so much more in the background thanks to the talent of their marketing department. There’s official car, water, hydration, airline, health food, hotel and supplement providers, all giving big hand outs in return for association with the only GAA market worth their while. And then, as the Irish Independent reported, there’s Dublin’s deal with a non-alcoholic beer partner for “multi-millions”.
“Also, the money is badly divided from the top down,” adds Coleman. Indeed it’s monopolised. Figures released in the 2014 GAA financial report show that Dublin received €1.46 million for games development, more than the other 31 counties combined. In terms of Leinster, the next largest amount went to Wexford who were given €53,800. All in all, of those funds given out in the province, Dublin got fat on 77 per cent with the rest left to starve.
“We’ve a partnership with AIT for development teams – 13 squads, 70 footballers, 70 hurlers and that alone costs €30,000,” says Westmeath chairman Seán Sheridan. “That’s the money nearly gone. Those teams help develop players, help us to be competitive. Money might be a dirty word in GAA but it costs a lot. We are trying to keep up and we can’t.”
“We’ve two full-time staff but there are pressures on resources and the more we get, the more we can do on the ground, it’s as simple as that,” adds Louth supremo Des Halpenny. “It’s not a question of just throwing money out there but we have projects and if we got more, we could do more. We’ve two of the biggest urban centres outside of Dublin and they present challenges. This is a very sporting county so we need to get in there and that’s not done for nothing.”
Essentially, they’ve initiatives that aren’t free. Others have plans too like Longford who are trying to revolutionise what amounts to a Dublin club in size by 2020. Carlow were looking to the future too, but awaiting the result of a report on weaker football counties, word was leaked that they’d get no extra funding as they’d been given €40,000 for hurling development. In essence they were being punished for being small and attempting to play two sports. And this after Dublin had been made rich for being a one-sport county as struggling in hurling, they were given close to €6m across six years to develop the small-ball game.
“I don’t want to come across as a whinger,” says Carlow chairman Michael Meaney. “But in terms of money, it doesn’t matter how we feel about it, it’s about how Croke Park feel and that isn’t changing. And it’s not just games development, there are other things, like the GAA national training centre will be there. But to use rounded figures, it costs €8m, €6m comes from the GAA and €2m from Dublin. No one else can build something like that for €2m. We’ve been lucky enough to avoid playing them at senior but we have played at underage and when the draw is made you start finding it hard to get guys to train. They know what’s coming so they just don’t show up.”
There’s more. In the shadow of such a joke, Dublin never playing away may seem a cheap quip, but it too adds to the humour. In the last five years of the Heineken Cup/Champions Cup, the winning team is the home team 64.5 per cent of the time. In the Premier League that figure is 61 per cent. Meanwhile in Gaelic football, this league the figure was 54.4 per cent, the same as the last five championships. In a game of centimetres that matters.
In fact of the Leinster chairman spoken too, only Wicklow’s said that Dublin playing in Croke Park was right on the basis nowhere else could host such numbers. But this is a fallacy. In 2014 there were 40,960 for their quarter-final, and that was a double-header with Kildare-Louth. In the semi-final there was 46,279 but that was a double-header with Kildare-Meath. In 2013 there was just 33,008 for their quarter-final against Westmeath, that on the same day Kildare-Offaly. It’s also a fallacy that other Leinster counties can change the arrangement as it comes down to the Leinster Council fixtures committee who, like the GAA with Dublin, are taking money and running from fairness.
“They’d be happy to travel and it’s good for the local economy and it provides a sense of excitement because everyone loves to see the Dubs coming, they are the stars of this show,” concludes Wexford chairman Diarmuid Devereaux. “But the current situation with Dublin and all these advantages, well, it’s not a frustration, it’s just reality.”
A reality fewer and fewer care about. Let the games begin, but sadly there’ll be little fun.
Sunday Business Post
17 May, 2015