Idea of amalgamating counties not dismissed by Gaelic Players Association

Dessie Farrell believes franchises made up of smaller counties may be suitable in future

 GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell: “Our games thrive on that parochial nature.  It’ll be a difficult model to break down.”

GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell: “Our games thrive on that parochial nature. It’ll be a difficult model to break down.”



There is a rising belief that by 2054, at the latest, the GAA’s championship landscape will be Americanised. Small counties will amalgamate to ensure survival, with franchises becoming the new order.

So said Mayo’s towering young midfielder Aidan O’Shea last month, in the context of the Sky Sports deal and how it represented an inevitable march towards players eventually being paid for their endeavour.

“It’s going to go there eventually,” said O’Shea. “We all know that. It might be 20, 30, 40 years away but that’s the way it has to go.”

O’Shea’s problem was that the players are the only ones not being paid on All-Ireland final day. “Obviously there are huge perks, don’t get me wrong,” he did add.

With Pandora’s Box now ajar the focus turns towards the Gaelic Players Association and their chief executive Dessie Farrell.

“I think over the next decade it’ll be very interesting to see what does happen,” said Farrell. “You would think that there could be grounds for an amalgamation of counties in certain areas.

“Now that would be red rag to a bull for a lot of people and ultimately you can’t impose anything on an individual county or a number of counties in that regard.

“It has to be of their own volition and there has to be an appetite to do that and you may get to a place where there isn’t one even though logically and practically it might seem like the thing to do.

Parochial nature
“Our games are so unique and they thrive on that parochial nature and that’s why they’ve prospered for over 100 years now. It’ll be a difficult model to break down and, as I said, I’m not sure what the appetite will be in the future.”

The question was rephrased to Farrell regarding the elite-player viewpoint. “I think what’s interesting at county player level is the different level of ambition,” he continued. “For some players the big thing would be to win a provincial medal and that’s the number one goal. They’re not looking for All-Irelands because that’s probably a level beyond them.

“If there’s only a handful of counties in a position to win an All-Ireland for example, you’d have to ask yourself what’s the point? But in other sports that’s the way it is too. You look at the Premiership for example and yet that continues to thrive and be a success as well. Our games are unique but the challenges aren’t necessarily unique to the GAA.”

It’s relevant to note that Farrell was talking at yesterday’s announcement by the GAA and GPA of a 10-year sponsorship deal with Avonmore protein milk which will see seven cent from every litre sold going into the GPA’s player development programme.

Simplifying matters then: would the GPA chief executive be in favour of a more equal spread of funding? Farrell answered in the affirmative but with caveat.

“Yeah. I think so, I think so. With funding there’s accountability as well. Before the GAA would possibly get into something like that there’d want to be very clear guidelines laid down as to what the funding would be used for. But it is an option in terms of bringing in a greater sense of fair play to what’s going on at the minute.”

Dublin, who receive the majority of funding as befits their population, can defend themselves by saying they are being punished for being a success both on and off the playing field.

“Yeah, and I think there’s a little bit of scaremongering going on about Dublin and the success of Dublin. I think it’s probably a little bit too early to make a final call on that. While it’s been great, wearing my Dublin hat [as under-21 manager], to win two senior All-Ireland titles in the last number of years, we were quite lucky in how we beat Kerry here in the semi-final and then last year there was only a point in it [in the All-Ireland final] so it’s not as if we’re steam-rolling opponents in the championship.

Unnerved people
I think last week’s national league has probably unnerved people in relation to that but I think the championship will be very, very different.

“While we’re fortunate to have very good crop of players at senior and under-21 level, I can’t see that being sustained and I think the challenge for Dublin people is to try to keep that going for as long as possible because it won’t last forever.”

In 20, 30 or 40 years it might well be different – when, and if, the franchises roll in.

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