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Declan Bogue: Dublin's funding gives unfair edge

Capital gain: Dublin’s Brian Howard and Paddy Andrews after Leinster title triumph over Meath on Sunday at Croke Park
Capital gain: Dublin’s Brian Howard and Paddy Andrews after Leinster title triumph over Meath on Sunday at Croke Park
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

The Polo Grounds in Dublin's Phoenix Park on January 27, 1883 witnessed the first recorded instance of what would mutate into the modern-day game of hurling.

Michael Cusack, later to become the founder of the GAA, had organised the Dublin Hurling Club to get a bit of a game going.

For the next few weeks the players met at the same spot. Teams were picked and games were played. But by early April, the club suspended all activities. Numbers were hard to come by and, according to Paul Rouse's excellent book, The Hurlers: "At best there were a mere 10 playing members who had paid the 5 shilling subscription to join."

From its inception, the chief aim of the GAA has been the promotion of Gaelic games. From that point to now, it has succeeded spectacularly.

Around the turn of the century, Dublin was identified as a place that required special care.

The GAA helped Dublin clubs fund coaches in schools and clubs through Games Promotion Officers (GPOs). The system has been a remarkable success if you are from Dublin, but the sheer figures involved have become a huge source of resentment elsewhere.

Last Sunday's Leinster final 16-point trimming Dublin handed Meath was the tipping point for many who have become disillusioned with a system whereby Dublin have won the last nine Leinster titles, 14 out of the last 15.

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Dublin are streets ahead of the rest in their province and, with a record-breaking five consecutive All-Irelands within their grasp, every other county.

Their funding is the same. From 2007 to 2017, Dublin received £16,612,847 in coaching and games development grants. Fermanagh, the lowest funded of all 32 counties, received £525,173.

The figures are based on playing population, so with the least amount of potential players, Fermanagh are bottom of the heap.

Counties are not equitable units, so there is a certain logic to this.

Stephen Cluxton, possibly the most influential footballer of his and perhaps any generation, was not a Dublin schoolboy when GPOs were first deployed. A GPO did not shape a more recent talent such as Brian Fenton.

There is an envy at play here. It manifests itself in an opposition towards Dublin. Those on the other side of the argument - and some journalists cannot see how they exist as a propaganda tool for Dublin - say that the begrudgery is aimed at the current senior team, as if their excellence is somehow marred by the wider discussion on how funds are used.

It's a shameful tactic. This writer has spent time in the usual way with some of the Dublin footballers, loitering in hotel lobbies on All-Star tours, the usual Backstage Johnny stuff. The ones I have come across are unfailingly polite and humble. Interesting people too, with some engaged in proper socially-conscious work outside of their sporting careers.

The apparatus around the team has ensured we do not get to see many glimpses of their personalities and their encounters with the press are ridiculously limited. But they are not spokesmen for the current financial imbalances.

Those that are asked, say manager Jim Gavin, the current GAA President John Horan, the post-match utterings of Leinster Council chairman Jim Bolger, have shown themselves to be utterly out of step with prevailing attitudes.

Then again, why ask the establishment questions that might threaten their position of authority?

In 2015, Club Eirne, a fundraising body for GAA in Fermanagh, asked Croke Park to appoint an independent person to review activities in their county and how they might be improved.

Wexford man Michael Martin, a former chairman of the National Games Development Committee, was appointed. His work was diligent and he put significant effort in.

By the end, he had six recommendations. Two of them involved the appointment of a football development co-ordinator, and a strength and conditioning coach for players from 14 to 18.

The finance required for such roles, he noted, should come from a combination of the Ulster Council, Croke Park, and external bodies, meaning Club Eirne.

When this document was presented to Croke Park, they refused financial help. Undeterred, Club Eirne appointed two people in those roles and pay the wages themselves.

You can argue all you want about how money has contributed to Dublin's current success. This is not the argument here. When the county who are bottom of the pile are brave enough to have an outsider review their structures and arrive with a clear-eyed plan of how to improve themselves, only to be turned down, then that stinks.

RTÉ commentator and GAA correspondent Marty Morrissey had a chance to ask Dublin county board about the issue and put it like this: "Do you get annoyed when there is criticism of how much money Dublin get? Is it begrudgery? Is your reaction to say, 'well lads, ye get your house in order. We've done it!'"

Well Marty, some did. And they still were laughed out of it.

Donegal are good enough to halt fifth successive Sam

At the start of the decade, Donegal were in a very delicate place. In the dressing room ahead of the 2011 Ulster final, their manager Jim McGuinness held up pictures of every captain that had lifted the Anglo-Celt Cup since Donegal had last managed it in 1992.

He asked some players to name the captain. He came to Ryan Bradley and was holding a picture of Derry captain Henry Downey. He realised after a while that Bradley hadn’t a clue who Downey was and discreetly moved on.

That evening there was a new captain climbing the steps of Clones. Michael Murphy went up there at the age of 22.

Before that day, Donegal had won the Ulster Championship a total of five times. Murphy has now captained them to five titles as they have enjoyed their greatest ever period of football.

It is absolutely no surprise that this period and Murphy’s career have overlapped. Colm O’Rourke’s contention that Murphy has deficiencies shows how badly out of touch the highest-profile analysts can be.

In the 2011 final, it took a Murphy penalty to wrestle the game away from Derry. A high ball into the square had Murphy tracking its flight. He collided with Derry goalkeeper Danny Devlin and a penalty was awarded. Naturally, Murphy buried it.

The journey that player and county have been on since has been remarkable in countless ways, but the evolution of their game has been incredible.

On Sunday, they conceded 2-16 and still won the Ulster title comfortably. The perception of Ulster football has been flipped entirely in one summer.

Now, Donegal teem with attacking talent, the rest of the nation waking up to Jamie Brennan’s talents belatedly. And they don’t even have Odhran MacNiallais and Cian Mulligan to call on right now.

Right now they sit second favourites for Sam behind five-in-a-row chasing Dublin.

Given the football they are playing, it all makes sense.

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