MacKenna On Monday: Dublin Financial Advantage Must Be Addressed

We’ll have to stop you right there.

If, of all counties, Kerry – the same place that not long ago saw fans abstain from All Ireland semi-finals as they didn’t warrant their time – winning a game at the start of February is cause for hope, then all hope has been lost. Fun? Yes. A distraction? Sure. Significant? Absolutely not.

Indeed those with insight to the Dublin camp have said they are only tip-toeing back to training.

Besides, this isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about brazen bias and utter contempt for fairness.

In terms of the greater good of the sport, a far more significant event occurred over the last few days. Since Tom Ryan took over as director-general, I’ve tried and tried to speak with him repeatedly. Initially, he accepted, but then the GAA put a halt to it for whatever reason which is their right, just as they had done with Páraic Duffy before. But Colm Parkinson got his chance and he grasped the moment and didn’t let go.

It was a depressing piece of podcast but it was hugely important for whatever else you might say about Ryan, he was at least honest. Asked about a strategy in place to stop Dublin inevitably doing nationally what they’ve done in destroying Leinster, he straight up said there was none.

He denied coaching children has any effect on an intercounty panel, in the process and by extension suggesting that the entire multi-billion dollar coaching industry is fraudulent.

He had it explained to him that the GAA paying millions upon millions to Dublin for games promotion officers saves them from doing this themselves, allowing those millions to be invested elsewhere, including the inter-county panel.

He claimed that Dublin pay half the cost of those officers which other counties don’t, which is simply not true as confirmed by the Leinster Council who noted the rest have the same system of 50-50.

He noted that, just like Dublin, there were 20 full-time chief executives elsewhere maximising revenue but, pulled up, backtracked and said they were actually secretaries filling in paperwork.

He in part blamed Kildare and Meath, Offaly and Laois for not stepping up to the plate and competing with Dublin, thus not bringing about more interest and bigger crowds within their province.

And then, having skirted around the issue, he admitted it.

“Look at who is a net contributor,” he said. “When you look at where income is generated in the totality, where it comes from, Dublin is a significant funder of the association as a whole.”

There you have it, folks.

This would be bad enough on its own, for imagine Philip Browne directing a massive majority of the IRFU funding to Lansdowne and then defending it? Imagine John Delaney for all his faults sending a significant chunk of FAI funding to Dundalk and then saying they deserve it? But Ryan’s interview came right after the latest GAA accounts showed massively skewed funding to Dublin for the 15th straight year. Break that down and in terms of games development funding, between 2007 and 2018, Dublin received nearly €18m. As a sample of the rest, second was Cork with €1.43m, Kildare and Meath got just over €1m, Kerry €928,481, Mayo were at €718,780, while Tyrone got a relatively measly €679,216.

There are of course many misconceptions around the issue, attempting to blur lines and muddy waters when the financial doping on such an obscene scale cannot be masked. People suggest this is from central accounts and others are financed from provincial bodies while Dublin are not. This is false. Go to the Leinster accounts and the only county in games development funding listed comes under ‘The Dublin Coaching Project’ at around a quarter of a million per annum. As for the rest, the provincial body refuses requests to break down the split. It’s telling.

There is other rubbish too, thrown out as if a twig laid on the train tracks, soon to be crushed.

There’s the argument that coaching doesn’t improve players, as if sports science has been reduced to quackery in order for Dublin to maintain a myth. There’s even hurling chucked in, and questions over why money didn’t improve it. Except it’s an even better example of what finance does. Since funding began in ’04, in the small ball game of which they’ve limited tradition, Dublin won their first Leinster senior since 1961, four Leinster under-21 titles, six provincial minor titles, a national league, and two club All Irelands. It’s their greatest period since the ’40s, when it was country folk fuelling it.

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Then there are those who will try and use different population formats to justify this. They’ll talk about total population meaning that it’s acceptable, even if figures show otherwise. There’s another problem around that though. If Dublin are to be funded as a province, one that government reports show will soon have 40 per cent of the national population, then fielding one team is absurd. To think, in the face of this joke, some claim it makes sense and is acceptable.

Besides, if this money is split per head of population, then using those 2007-2018 figures, every person in Dublin was given is €13.32. For the rest, it works out at €5.32. Delve deeper. Meath were at €6.11, Kildare at €4.90, Galway at €3.75, Cork at €2.65, Down at €1.32. Basically, Dublin is seen as two-and-a-half times more valuable than the rest. Worse, while overseeing this, Ryan has noted it simply has to be this way.

That perhaps is most galling for this isn’t some mistake, it’s part of their plan.

He literally said they had to pay Dublin more because they bring in more. But, of course, they bring in more. They have nearly 40 per cent of the population of the Republic. The job of a ruling body isn’t to assist those best placed based on outside factors they had nothing to do with, making sure they win. On top of that, this argument, as bad as it is, doesn’t even hold up. With the funding injection to Dublin starting in 2004, they weren’t on top back then. So where was the funding for Laois and Westmeath and Mayo and Tyrone when they were packing out grounds?

Of late, the idea that Dublin are bringing in the money doesn’t actually make sense anyway. There are fewer holes in Swiss cheese.

In 2018, where they again dwarfed everyone else’s funding, their average crowd across their three Leinster games was less than 40,000, and that included a doubleheader. Outside of that, and considering All Ireland finals will always sell out, their three home games between the Super 8s and last four averaged barely over 40,000 and again one of these was a doubleheader. With the average elsewhere being 20,000, this would mean Dublin’s crowd is only double the norm. Yet in the latest accounts, while they received €1.3m, next best was Cork at €367,400 with the rest below that. In other words for bringing in twice the money, Dublin were are getting five times the average outlay. It’s rotten and it’s in plain view.

Still, others claim this is fine, to the point we have to ask what’s really going on.

In an agenda-driven media, there’s always a shortfall of issues to go after. Yet this is a no-go for many. Joe Brolly tried to back the Dublin cause over the weekend, engaging in basic misinformation to cover the GAA’s tracks and refusing to correct his error. In response to me on the 2007-2018 figures, he said, “You do realise that Leitrim got more per club than Dublin?” Except break down those figures. Per registered player, Dublin got €457.09 while Leitrim got €192.86.

Meanwhile, in terms of his club claim, with Dublin’s official website showing 91 clubs, that’s €196,884 each. Contrast that with Leitrim where it was €28,688 per club. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Granted it’s not just him with many leading media figures ignoring the hippo in the studio. Why?

This doesn’t even take into account that Dublin ought to need less. With a wage bill for staff of half a million, they can self-fund a near professional operation courtesy of all the other in-built advantages both because of the GAA and because of factors far beyond the GAA. Speaking to John Trainor of Onside sponsorship agency, he recently took a call from Australia about them.

“Brands say there are 1.2 million people we want to connect with via sponsorship and if that’s their focused objective, they will look at Dublin given the footprint. When you cross-reference sponsor spend and county size, they are really closely aligned.” – John Trainor

Thus they can bring in close to a million from a main sponsor and have a whole host of other official partners including an airline, covering costs, handing out merchandise to cut expenses, and giving cheques.

Then there are other expenses the rest endure but not them. Under the GPA, mileage has become a big factor. When people are talking about others spending a lot on teams, even matching Dublin, it is misleading. Dublin don’t have many travel costs given where their players are based due to the economy but for others they are huge. In 2016 for instance, mileage cost Mayo €580,547.

Counties like them will tell you about other outlays as well, such as building a stadium fit for purpose. Last summer the attitude around Kildare and the Newbridge-or-nowhere debacle was that they hadn’t invested enough so they shouldn’t be allowed play at home. But when Dublin don’t invest enough in a ground, they were given the €230m national stadium. It means almost all their games are at home, allowing yet another saving financially and yet another benefit on the field as well.

With the GAA itself promising to redress the financial imbalance in recent years, they ended up giving Dublin more money in the latest accounts, but is it any surprise? When Páraic Duffy was asked a couple of years ago about the funding issue by an Oireachtas committee he said they’d look into it with Dublin’s permission. And when his replacement spoke to Parkinson last week he essentially admitted Dublin had them over a barrel.

It means that this isn’t the GAA anymore.

It’s Dublin GAA.

For the rest they can pay to be humiliated and, on the way out they’ll be told, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”.

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Author: Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year. View all posts by Ewan MacKenna