A grey Thursday, an afternoon Zoom, three interested parties. One subject that won’t go away. The Dubs and money, money and The Dubs. As if January wasn’t long enough already.
In the top corner, Pat Teehan, Leinster Council Chairman. Fresh from his Monday night address to the 2020 Leinster Convention in which he rounded on "misguided commentary" around the funding of Dublin GAA. In the bottom middle slot, John Connellan, former Westmeath footballer. Fresh from a headline-grabbing swipe back at what he saw as "lazy arguments" on Teehan's part.
In, er, the other top corner, The Irish Times, trying to find refuge from the generalities that dog this debate and establish some solid ground on which to proceed.
Teehan has been a GAA administrator for three decades. He’s done everything in the Offaly County Board, served on GAA committees, delegate to Central Council, the whole show. Before all that, he was in Dublin for a decade and was immersed in the GAA in the city too.
Connellan retired from playing for Westmeath in 2017 and works as a barrister. For what it's worth, his father played under-21 for Dublin in the 70s before moving to Athlone. He has an axe to grind, yes - but it isn't with Dublin GAA. It's with Croke Park and the level of funding that continues to be pumped into Dublin. He has circulated a motion to clubs nationwide asking that development funding be equalised, in the hope that one of them gets it onto the clár at Congress.
The chat went on for close to an hour. We started with the analysis document Connellan has circulated to all clubs, which can be found on his Twitter feed (@johnC_BL).
Pat Teehan: I respect the work John has done and the document he has produced. I'm not here to downgrade anything he has done. This is just a difference of opinion. Sometimes as administrators we're classed as being out of touch with the general body of the GAA. But just to say, I'm first and foremost a volunteer, I spent my first 10 years in Dublin so I know a lot about Dublin GAA and Dublin clubs and I've been involved in every role on Offaly GAA as well. So I think I'm well qualified to speak on this.
Malachy Clerkin: Indeed, well that's the point of getting the two of you together. You are both well-qualified here and well-versed in the issues.
Pat Teehan: I will say that the fact that John is working off stats that are three years old muddies things a good bit because things have changed dramatically in the intervening two or three years. I'm not saying it will change his mind completely but it might change some of his thinking.
Malachy Clerkin: Off you go, so.
Pat Teehan: On John's figures from 2017, Dublin's funding breaks down at €1.5m per annum, which works out at €1.11 a year per head of population. The rest of Leinster's funding in 2017 averaged out a €738,000 per year, which equated to €0.57 per head. But now, in 2019, which is the last year the figures are there for, the spend on Dublin coaching was down to €1.2m. The spend on the rest of Leinster went from €738,000 a year to €2.1m a year. If you break all that down by head of population, the spend on Dublin is €0.89, the rest of Leinster is €1.63. And that will increase all the time.
John Connellan: Well that's the first I have heard of those figures. I've been working off the figures that were available to me. I'd love to get a look at those figures in detail.
Pat Teehan: That's no problem, I'll send them to you.
John Connellan: That's good – I can't really comment on them until I see them. It's great to see spending increasing if that's the case, both in Leinster and around the country. But what we're talking about here is an entirely disproportionate level of funding. What can't be disputed is that for a period of 10-to-15 years, there was a completely disproportionate level of funding put into Dublin. What we need to see now is a completely disproportionate level of funding going in the opposite direction. If the goal of the GAA is to keep our competitions competitive and to address the imbalance.
Malachy Clerkin: Do you accept that characterisation, Pat? That the funding has been disproportionate and that it has fed into decimation of the competition?
Pat Teehan: Of course, yes. I have no argument with that. Based on the figures that John has produced and published up to 2017, there's no argument. The funding was disproportionate. But it came about for two reasons. First of all, the Sports Council decided that sports participation in Dublin in all sports wasn't what it should be. And they decided to put money directly into sporting organisations in Dublin, including Dublin GAA. That money is ring-fenced and audited, it can only go to Dublin GAA.
The second thing was the manner in which Dublin coaching took off, which is the model we are copying now for the rest of Leinster, whereby the clubs contribute and the Games Promotion Officer goes into the club and it's a part-funded by both. The number of coaches in Dublin in 2017 was 64 and it's still 64. In the rest of Leinster in 2017 it was 72 and it's now 118.
John Connellan: Of those coaches, aren't most of them part of the East Leinster Project that covers five counties?
Pat Teehan: Yes, I agree with you. That's process we're in the middle of. The first thing I said when I took over as Leinster Chairman was that I wanted to extend that programme throughout the province. We started on that in 2019 and it stalled last year because of Covid. But that's underway.
John Connellan: Okay but it's not a like-for-like comparison. Take the clubs. There's one club in Dublin – I won't name them but I know this for a fact – they have one Games Development administrator and under him he has two Games Promotions Officers whose remit it is to go into schools. His salary is partially paid by the club and partially paid by the GAA, under the model you are rolling out across Leinster. But his two assistants, who are masters qualified sports scientists and one of them is working on a PhD, they are self-funded by the club itself. This club claims on their website to have in excess of 3,000 members and their membership fees range from €170 to €380. Mine in Athlone is €70.
Pat Teehan: If you joined my club in Coolderry, it'd be a lot cheaper!
John Connellan: That's the point though. Ye're trying to roll out a one-size-fits-all model when you can't compare like with like. I've been trying to get a GPO for Athlone. This is a town of 22,000 people with ourselves and Garrycastle in the town. Should Athlone be expected to pony up the same amount as a club in Dublin that has that access to corporate sponsorship and that level of membership income?
Pat Teehan: I agree with you. You're never going to get equity across the system. Take the scenario in Offaly, where Edenderry have a coach now.
John Connellan: That was self-funded, yeah.
Pat Teehan: Yeah, and Leinster pay the balance. Are other clubs in Offaly entitled to say then that, 'Here, Edenderry is a big club so they should pay for all that themselves?' It's very difficult to means test across the board. It's like the argument for years that Child Benefit should be means-tested, if you want to use that analogy.
I agree totally that there are inequities and those are areas that we need to look at. But my issue, and what I was trying to get across at the Leinster convention was that we need the coaching that is happening in Dublin to continue. And we need to expand that model to the rest of the country.
John Connellan: But has there been any analysis of whether clubs in Dublin would be able to sustain that coaching level off their own bat?
Pat Teehan: I would have to say, probably not. But the other side of it is that every Dublin club isn't like the one you've cited there. The big problem for Dublin clubs is lack of facilities. A club on the southside of Dublin – again, like you, I won't name them – but they pay €100,000 a year for pitches to the council.
There are 400 pitches in Dublin and only half of them are full-size – 50 per cent are owned by the council, 32 per cent are owned by clubs, the rest are owned by schools or colleges. There are 65 full-size pitches in Offaly, all owned by clubs – to have an equivalent amount in Dublin by ratio of population, you'd need 1,065 pitches in Dublin. There are anomalies on both sides. It can't simply come down to one issue. That's my point. We can't just say take money away from Dublin.
John Connellan: No, and some people would like to say that my argument is rip the rug out from under Dublin. I know you're not saying that but people misrepresent my argument in those terms. But my argument is not that. My argument is that the Dublin County Board turn a huge profit every year. Their remit is to service their clubs. You know as an Offaly man that the finances capable of being generated by the Dublin County Board are something other county boards could only dream of.
But how much of that money goes to assisting the clubs? How much of it do they help clubs with when it comes to renting facilities? Not to mention the fact that in 1997, the GAA’s Ard-Stiúrthóir stated that the finances of Dublin GAA were in such a bad state that the burden of fundraising needed to be removed. And that was done.
So now you have a county board that doesn't need to fundraise in the traditional manner and is turning a huge profit, clubs that are self-sustainable, Sports Council funding ring-fenced for Dublin and still the GAA continues to pump this money into Dublin. A one-size-fits-all policy for the richest and poorest in society wouldn't get you far in politics so why do we think it will work here?
Pat Teehan: Yes, as I have said there are some valid arguments in there. But the main thing I wanted to emphasize is that, contrary to the feeling that might be out there that we in Leinster are neglecting the rest of the counties and concentrating on Dublin, that is not the case. It was a Dublin man, John Horan, who brought in the East Leinster project in 2017 and took €200,000 off Dublin to fund it.
But again, there are so many strands to this. A dual player in Dublin will have access to playing in 32 games a year. That's the way they organise their competitions.
For a dual player in most other counties in Leinster, that number is 16. Through a player's teenage years, that adds up to around an extra 100 games if they play in Dublin. That's purely down to county boards organising competition. We have started to organise cross-county competitions at under-13 and under-15 level to make up the shortfall.
John Connellan: I completely agree on that point. Absolutely. Games are the key for any young players. That's actually what this debate is really all about. The manifestation of all of this funding in Dublin and the coaching structures and all the rest of it is the dominance of the senior football team. And I could be blamed for this to some extent – this debate has becomes very tribal because it raises its head particularly at times of Dublin success.
When what we should really be focusing on is the player experience and the player pathway of a young child in Dublin, in Mayo, in Donegal, in Offaly and in Westmeath. The competition structures you're talking about Pat, they weren't in place in the late 90s in Dublin.
Pat Teehan: No, you're right, they weren't, no.
John Connellan: But the GAA intervened and started pumping money in to fix that situation. John Costello came in as the CEO, which allowed Dublin to put these structures in, which are the gold standard, we all agree. All these years later, something like the East Leinster project is a band-aid on a flesh wound. Unless there is a dramatic increase in the level of funding and a dramatic change in how funding is allocated, everything will continue the same way. If the GAA standpoint is that the gold standard is to be maintained in Dublin, then schemes like the East Leinster project and whatever else will be underfunded.
Pat Teehan: But the figures tell you there has been a change in the last three years. Dublin were getting €1.5m in 2017, they're getting €1.2m now. The rest of Leinster has gone from €738,000 in 2017 to €2.1m now. Plus we've negotiated another €200,000 from local councils so it's actually €2.3m.
John Connellan: In terms of your address the other night, for me some of it was difficult to digest. Firstly, dealing with this idea that other counties have to raise their standards up to Dublin's level.
Pat Teehan: In fairness, I qualified that by saying it was up to us to help counties to do that. I never said the counties have to go away on their own and catch up to Dublin on their own. What I said was, "We in Leinster GAA can't shirk our responsibilities and will continue to have a major part to play in helping our counties to develop and grow. We will continue to assist units to ensure they have the resources to grow our game and to raise standards."
John Connellan: But do you think that in the absence of a seismic shift in how funding is allocated that it is realistic to suggest that counties can raise their standards to such a degree? From my point of view, as a past player, I read that and put myself in the shoes of a player. The GPA study shows how much players are putting into this – an average of 35 hours a week to their sport and the same again to their job or study.
Fair enough, you're qualifying what you mean there but if I'm a player putting 70 hours a week, I hear this idea that everyone else has to raise their standards and I go, 'To what? To 90 hours a week?' Being told that Dublin winning is great for the association and that everyone else just has to up it is very damaging to the psyche of young players down the country.
Pat Teehan: No, well I never said that Dublin winning everything is great for the association. What I said was that a vibrant GAA in Dublin is great for the association. Just as a vibrant GAA in Offaly is great for the association, just as a vibrant GAA in Westmeath is great for the association. Even when we're not winning, we're still vibrant. And just because you're vibrant, doesn't mean you're winning.
My whole thing is that every child in every school should be given the opportunity to be shown our games and that's the vibrancy I was talking about. Not about Dublin winning All-Irelands. It's not good for one team to be dominating. That is not good for anyone, probably not even good for Dublin because the whole thing could blow up long term. I'm sorry if it ever came across that way, that's not how it was meant. I can appreciate how it might appear that way but certainly that was never how that was meant to sound. The reality is that because of population, Dublin are going to be up there winning things. It's the same as the big town in any county.
Malachy Clerkin: Sure, but as Dublin supporters like to remind anyone who brings up this subject, there were plenty of years when they won nothing. They were well capable of going 20 years with only one All-Ireland. But this feels different, doesn't it? I always think of the Dublin thing as nearly an existential threat – as in, if this is the level of dominance possible when the funding has only been going for a decade and a half, what does the future look like?
John Connellan: I know your remit is Leinster, Pat but to broaden it out a bit, somewhere like Galway should be a huge strategic area for the GAA. But there's no call to arms to invest the level of funding that was pumped into Dublin from the late-'90s onwards. You could apply it to many urban centres but there's just not the level in import or urgency outside of Dublin.
Pat Teehan: I suppose the only way I can answer that is to say that at the end of the day, Dublin has 28 per cent of the population. At the time, GAA was basically nearly the third sport in the city. Something had to be done to get it up there.
John Connellan: Nobody disputes that. Every bit of correspondence I've sent has accepted that was fair enough at the time. But my point is that we are at least seven or eight years past the point where that was achieved. The model hasn't changed to a significant degree. Their objective was achieved.
Pat Teehan: Yeah, but you can't just stop something.
John Connellan: Look at the Dublin County Board and the profit they can generate – can't they fund it themselves?
Pat Teehan: But they have invested €9m in the Spawell for their clubs. They bought Hollystown Golf Club to build pitches for their clubs. The money they're making, they're reinvesting.
John Connellan: I've given you examples where Dublin clubs can pay for their own coaches. This is a result of the success of the initial project. The objective was achieved. And it has been allowed to snowball without any forensic analysis or, as you said yourself, any business case analysis to establish whether it is still needed.
The objective now surely should be redefined and the focus has to go around the country. The Sports Council funding will still go into Dublin, sponsorship will still attach itself, clubs will still have their own income streams. But GAA funds are badly needed elsewhere.
Pat Teehan: There are superclubs in Dublin, there is no doubt about that. Some of them are too big and that's part of the problem. They probably shouldn't have been allowed get so big. Of the 90 clubs in Dublin, 15 of them account for 45 per cent of all the teams. There's lots of other clubs in Dublin that need all the help they can get.
John Connellan: I heard Pat Gilroy saying on The Sunday Game that the battle is being lost between the canals. I'm at the coalface in Athlone, I know you are in Offaly too, Pat – the battle is being lost down the country. This is a fact. I live in a town of 22,000 people, one of the major urban centres of the midlands. I don't understand why it isn't of the same strategic importance to the GAA as the area between the canals in Dublin.
I'm interested in the player pathway of a kid who comes into our nursery in Athlone GAA Club and getting it up to the same level as that experienced by a kid in a school or a club in Dublin. There may well have been an increase in investment and more might be coming but it's so far inferior to what has been put into Dublin. The GAA is obsessed with further growing the game between the canals that they're completely missing the fact that the battle is well and truly being lost down the country. Not just in Leinster, in all the provinces.
Pat Teehan: That's an opinion and I respect your opinion, John – and I know it's the opinion of a great many people. But I still feel at the moment that we need to keep the funding for Dublin at the level it is at. Not to increase it but to keep it where it's at. Maybe over time, it's a good idea to go in and analyse how resilient Dublin is by itself.
Just because Dublin are turning a profit doesn't mean they're squandering it. The fact that they were able to go and buy land to develop facilities for their club is a credit to them. But success brings money as well. If they start losing, they won't bring in as much corporate sponsorship.
John Connellan: Ah now Pat. Who in the next five years is going to beat them in Leinster? What will the bookies have them at every year for the Leinster Championship?
Pat Teehan: They won't take any money on them. You couldn't bet on Dublin to win Leinster. I'm not disputing that with you at all.
John Connellan: Unless there's a massive shock, they won't lose Leinster in the next five years and they probably won't lose an All-Ireland. That, to me, is a crisis. Now, I don't doubt the bona fides of anyone working to improve the GAA. I know you, Pat, have given a lifetime of service to the GAA and you're to be commended for it.
But in the context of this whole thing being painted as Dublin v The Rest, I would ask if you see it as problematic that the top officials in Croke Park are either Dublin people or attached to Dublin clubs? Can you understand why these associations could lead to your average GAA member outside of Dublin getting the impression that there's a lack of understanding and a sense of Dublin v The Rest?
Pat Teehan: I could understand how there'd be that perception, yeah. But that the same time, I don't think it's fair. John Horan is the first GAA president from Dublin in donkey's years. Tom Ryan's club is Faughs but he's a Carlow man. By the nature of where it is, most of the paid staff in Croke Park are going to be from Dublin.
John Connellan: I have to say, in fairness to you Pat, you are the first person of influence in the GAA who has even agreed to speak to me about this and to debate me on it. You deserve a lot of credit for it.
Pat Teehan: Well, I'll always talk, no problem there.
Malachy Clerkin: Thanks lads, let's meet again in a decade when all this is sorted.
John Connellan: Yes, after Westmeath's drive for five is completed!