Home Features MacKenna On Monday: Those In Power Allowing Inter-County Game To Bleed Its Last Few Drops

MacKenna On Monday: Those In Power Allowing Inter-County Game To Bleed Its Last Few Drops

On 19 August 2015, Seb Coe was elected as the new president of the IAAF.

On 9 November 2015, he sat down with Jon Snow of Channel 4 for an exclusive interview.

What followed was refreshing as it was one of the few – and getting fewer – times in modern sports journalism that professional integrity wasn’t traded for some useless sliver of access.

Coe had served under former president Lamine Diack for eight years and spouted that he never knew of the massive corruption all around and directly above him. Meanwhile a year earlier, when an email arrived to the inbox of the Brit with attachments detailing how IAAF officials extorted in the region of €420,000 from Russian distance runner Liliya Shobukhova in exchange for covering up failed doping tests, he blamed being on holidays for not seeing it, then blamed being a technophobe for not seeing it, and then had several conversations about the email but suggested he never actually had once decided to open the attachment.

It led Snow to ask, “There are only two choices here – people will say asleep on the job or corrupt?” It was utterly deserved and the most basic logic and, still, Coe used that new-age corporate waffle as a reply, talking about a need to look at their systems and at their governance.

It’s a story, a question, a response and a holding to account of those politicians in sporting administration that came to mind again last week when listening to John Horan. You never expect some throw-away remarks at a press launch to be an eye-opener, but the GAA president can’t seem to help himself. Mild beside Coe for sure, but when you consider our most popular sport is seriously at risk, then it’s as if the breaks have been cut. Yet those in charge have decided the solution is to wedge their foot down hard on the accelerator.

As he spoke his latest nonsense, sadly no one stood up and asked him a simple question.

“Are you clueless as to the realities of the association you’re supposed to run or are you lying?”

I’ve agonised over those words in recent days, but there’s no third way.

* * *

When John Horan talks about Dublin, he still publicly refers to “we”. It may not seem serious in the capital but for the rest, it can feel like Cinderella syndrome only there’s no glass slipper.

If that word irks somewhat though, his others last week were far more troubling and telling.

“If anyone made a close examination of the Dublin senior teams you’d find out that an awful lot of the work that’s going into the underage structure is being done by voluntary people and not by the paid coaches.”

But does he realise this is exactly the same up and down the country, only those volunteers don’t get the financial help or guaranteed wins?

John Horan

“Dublin’s success – a lot of it is based on voluntary effort and a games programme. Yeah, we do have the [paid] coaches going into schools and that is a benefit, but that project is 50 per cent funded by the clubs. Schools are the predominant area in which the paid coaches work and they work not alone in hurling and football but in camogie and ladies football as well.”

But does he not realise that the 50 per cent wage split is the same elsewhere, that those coaches elsewhere work across codes, that those coaches in Dublin are paid for and work for clubs, and does he never consider what Dublin volunteers were doing so wrong before they coincidentally took over when money came, and what’s so different now?

“These things go in cycles and I’m quite sure with the obvious improvement that’s coming in both Kildare and Meath that Leinster will come back in time to be competitive,” he said of crowds.

An insult to people’s intelligence before a bigger insult to their efforts. Today we are in a low spot in the sport, but what makes it worse is that those with the power to change it either don’t realise where we are or don’t want that change. It’s grim.

However, if words can be and have been particularly bad, actions are always more revealing so forget about Dublin for a while. Let’s look at the GAA from another perspective. Let’s look at a year in the lives of others when it comes to their treatment by the association they volunteer for and their treatment by those who they pay for.

John Horan football championship

In this sphere, the customer is always wrong.

* * *

For a moment, put all bias aside and imagine that you were unfortunate enough to be from Kildare. We all remember their struggles with the Newbridge-or-Nowhere debacle just to have the rules adhered to but many have forgotten the insulting tone that came from on high. This was a peek into the arrogance and ego that exists within official GAA.

Nickey Brennan suggested that Kildare “made their point, now get on with it,” with the venue for their hosting of Mayo still set as Croke Park. The director of games development in headquarters, threatened one of the units of his organisation with expulsion for following those same rules, only to have his bluff brutally called. The communications director stated the switch to Conleth’s Park was down to “a whole new set of circumstances” when this was proven false around Gardaí deeming the place safe. The head of the CCCC further insulted fans by hinting at violence due to limited capacity.

Rather than learn their lesson though, those running the association decided to carry on with the bluster and the bully. With many of their fans refusing to go to Croke Park last weekend for a humiliation by Dublin, and with the majority of their ticket price going to Dublin so the beatings will get worse, the Leinster Council chairman couldn’t keep it shut. With a little over two per cent of Dublin showing for a neutral game at home they were assured to be victors in, he blamed Kildare for not coming out in greater numbers.

And now there’s Horan. Talking about Dublin’s great volunteers as the difference as if the rest sit around all day, before patronising them about how their day will come again.

This is not supposed to be how you treat customers and those who work for free to lay foundations for your entire operation. Yet it’s hardly surprising as it’s a microcosm of elitism.

So try again.

Just imagine being from Kildare.

Would you go out and try harder and pay more for this in-your-face fix?

* * *

Elitism.

We’re well used to it and we’d have grown tired of bringing up its many angles if it wasn’t so damn important. That’s because this present will define the association forever more.

Of course, it’s not only Kildare. In Mayo, their supporters will spend a generation paying back the cost of a fit-for-purpose stadium when their great rivals across much of the decade were given a €230m effort, allowing that money to go elsewhere. Meanwhile, they’d to fundraise seven figures some years to stay competitive while Dublin were given similar amounts and brought in no more than €50,000 in fundraising purely because they didn’t have to bother.

In Donegal, they’ve a similar problem coming down the tracks because they are paupers trying to eat at a top table in a monarchy. Sources say they’ve huge unpaid debt around catering and that it won’t be long before they come to Croker, cap in hand. Like those that came before, any loan will have to be paid back and come with terms and punishments.

During the week Carlow hurler Paul Coady had enough and, in a plea to give his county a chance after all the good work they’d done, he highlighted the hypocrisy in this area.

He wasn’t alone. Elsewhere online Westmeath footballer John Connellan was trying to explain the differences in facilities outside of Dublin. Speaking with him he recalled their one and only Leinster title in 2004 and computed that since then the aggregate championship score between them and Dublin has been 176-62. Meanwhile as Fermanagh exit the championship to abuse for their style from cheerleaders of the champions, they still reflect on how they tried to be like Dublin in doing their best, had Croke Park do an audit that recommended coaching funding, and were then refused that funding.

That fans from Dublin don’t get the reality of the rest is completely fine for it’s not in their interests or their business, even if it means they don’t get the full view of what has happened and cannot understand the reason there’s so much ire past the M50. But it’s supposed to be in Horan’s and the GAA’s interest and it is their business to get it.

dublin gaa

However, when referring to the “we” they act just like supporters and talk with the same smug tone and same clueless ignorance. But by now everyone knows, indeed Dublin’s hurling victory over Galway buries the last line of defence around the financial doping and is proof this isn’t about the capital having better volunteers as stated by Horan.

In the small-ball game, the improvement has arguably been greater as, from a position of losing to Meath and Laois before the money came on tap in 2004, the turnaround is startling. They won a first Leinster senior since 1961; won four of their six ever Leinster under-20/21 titles while going to two All Irelands; won six Leinster minor titles including a first since the early 1980s and went to two finals; and won their only post-war national senior hurling title in the league. On top of that, a Dalkey club went back-to-back nationally. You’d think Horan would know that given it’s only a couple of weeks since Cuala with a new big-money multinational sponsor had the president with them in Croke Park to announce the deal. Fair play to them but Horan didn’t manage to see this is part of the problem.

Instead though as the rich prosper in a far-right system, he, in particular, uses the poor to deflect, talking ad nauseam about a B championship. It’s like Donald Trump screaming at a cleaner because his casino went bust. That second tier may come with its own problems due to an out-of-sight-out-of-mind philosophy that suits a group of people pushing for a semi-professional future. but who exactly does he think will play Dublin in an A Championship? The same Kildare that got embarrassed would be there. As would the same Meath team that next weekend will be embarrassed. As would the same Roscommon and Galway and Tyrone they took apart as if in a training match on the way to the four-in-a-row.

As the inter-county game bleeds its last few drops, and away from the “we”, those who care are left with a question.

“There are only two choices here – are you clueless as to the realities of the association you’re supposed to run or are you lying?”

About Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.