Time to re-balance the GAA playing scales
Sir, – Your contributors make many interesting and salient points regarding Dublin’s football dominance in Leinster (“Questioning Dublin’s Advantage”, June 27th) However this needs to be given some historical perspective.
Sport is a numbers game and as a small east Galway hurling club we used to take advantage of Galway’s presence in Croke Park to load up a bus with U-12 and U-14 players and take in a challenge game against some Dublin club before travelling onwards to Croke Park.
In the early years we invariably won the fixture and we were somewhat dismissive of their laboured hurling skill, but as the years progressed we noticed two things: First, as our numbers decreased and we had to use U-12 and 13 players to make up a team in our U-14 division, Dublin clubs invariably had more than one team competing at U-14 level and restricted their players to their age grade and their basic skills had improved enormously.
Second, the Dublin facilities were much improved and more extensive than what was available back home and money issues were nowhere near as pressing as they were/are in every rural club.
We were astonished to find that Dublin clubs had not one, but two or more paid games development coaches in their ranks while in Galway we had one to cover the whole county. Hence the vast improvement in skills level and players participating. So while the ethos of amateur volunteer coaches was still the norm in most other counties, the paid coach is common in Dublin GAA circles and this huge investment is demonstrably bearing fruit, not only in county football and hurling but also at club level.
Now many rural clubs struggle financially and with playing numbers and the availability of volunteer coaches the unthinkable is happening, with the greatest of traditional local enmities being set aside and adjacent parishes and clubs amalgamating. Now possibilities being considered include some rural counties – such as Sligo and Leitrim for example – pooling their playing and financial resources in an effort to become competitive again.
Meanwhile, Dublin GAA clubs continue to tap into the huge playing numbers and members at their disposal and are leaving the rest trailing far behind. They can hardly be criticised for their well-resourced success and professionalism and a pro-active response to the realisation in years past that the GAA had to compete for the minds of city youth and to directly confront the growing attraction of soccer, and to a lesser extent, rugby, in Dublin.
They have achieved this now. The down-side of increased professionalism and playing numbers of course is that the GAA is in danger of becoming, like soccer especially, the preserve of the super talented player to the exclusion of the just plain good or the social or enthusiastic player. We also wondered, then and now, if Dublin GAA was becoming a middle-class exploit as annual club memberships seemed to be set at between €250 and €400 per family, which would be prohibitive for many families in Galway and I’m sure for many Dubliners also.
For other counties or cities to catch up and challenge Dublin they might well follow the Dublin model, but the GAA nationally must look again at the apparent disproportionate distribution of its financial allocation to Dublin and to assist other counties to copy their model and employ more full-time development coaches in an effort to help re-balance the playing scales to help keep the competitions alive and the players and the paying public interested. – Yours, etc,