A lot has been said about the money involved in gaelic games over the last few months. With new TV deals, commercial partnerships and ever increasing ticket prices, it’s easy to see why it has become a topic of interest. Like it or not, intercounty gaelic football is becoming closer to a professional sport with each passing year and hurling isn’t far behind it.
During my time at the Gaelic Sports Research Centre in IT Tallaght, I have done a lot of work relating to both codes. A couple of weeks after last year’s All-Ireland football final, I posted some graphics on Twitter. They related to the GAA’s allocation of money to each county. One of the graphics (see below) generated a lot of interest on social networks and in the media. More recently it was referred to in the House of the Oireachtas.
— Shane Mangan (@Shane_Mangan) October 4, 2016
The reason why this graphic in particular caught the eye was due to the allocation of Games Development money to Dublin GAA.
Obviously, Dublin has a far greater population than every other county, so by right they should be given more money for development. But how much more money do they deserve?
From 2010 to 2014, Dublin received 48% of the GAA’s entire budget of Games Development money. That means that the other 52% of Games Development money was shared between the other 31 counties (plus London & New York). It meant that over that five year period, Dublin received €274.70 for every club player in the county.
Compare this to Cork, who are the next nearest to Dublin in terms of club players, and they received only €15.90 per player. Even the most loyal of Dublin supporters would have to admit that this isn’t quite right.
So why do Dublin get so much money? To answer the first part of that question you have to go back to the early 2000s. Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach at the time and Dublin were far from the football powerhouse that they are now.
A report commissioned by the GAA highlighted the lack of infrastructure and support for Dublin’s GAA teams. An increasing population and a lack of sporting facilities is not a good mix. Bertie worked his magic and with the help of the GAA, he convinced the Irish Sports Council to invest an extra €1 million plus in his beloved Dublin each year.
The deal was a huge boost for Dublin and there’s no doubt that they have benefitted from it in the subsequent years. The structures at school and club level are now top notch.
Almost every club in Dublin now have a Games Development (Promotional) Officer, who are charged with overseeing the development of the next generation of players. These Development Officers are part-funded by the Irish Sports Council’s grant and also part-funded by the club the work for.
Their roles are heavily based on coaching in schools and enticing players to join their local clubs. It’s a fantastic incentive. It means that Dublin have circa 60 Games Development Officers in comparison to Cork, who have less than 10.
Total income from the GAA is outlined below for a five-year period. This includes the aforementioned games development grants, capital grants, commercial distribution and team expenses. Counties in Munster have seemingly fared best in terms of income for the selected period, while some of the midland counties received the lowest amounts of money.
So with everything said and done, what impact does financial income have on the success of GAA teams? Gaelic football and hurling are not like other sports where the rich teams can buy whatever players they want (at least officially anyway). In fact, in comparing gaelic football team ratings to Games Development income (see graphic below) there is a negative correlation.
Obviously, Dublin is a major outlier, but the trend is that the lower rated teams receive greater amounts of money for games development. This may be a surprise to many but it makes sense. The best way to promote the game is to invest in weaker counties in order to make them competitive.
The major conclusion I would take from this is that it’s not how much money you get, but it’s about how you invest it. Yes, I think something needs to be done about the allocation of funding, but other counties need to take a leaf out of Dublin’s book and implement a long-term development strategy.