Martin Wynne's Blog

The GAA Strategic Review: Why was it not fully implemented?

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Gaelic Football is ploughing headlong into a crisis, the seeds of which were sown in 2002 when Dublin GAA were allowed to cherry-pick from that year’s Strategic Review

When the GAA Strategic Review was released in 2002, the essential message to emerge from it was that Dublin needed to be prioritised. The chairman of the committee, Peter Quinn, noted at the time that Dublin required “special attention” due to the fact that it accounted for “30 per cent of the state’s population”.

In an Irish Times article from Jan 21st of that year, Quinn was quoted as saying that they would be “recommending sizeable investment in terms of finance and personnel”. He also said that the committee would be recommending that Dublin be divided into two separate teams, with the transition to be completed in time for the 2005 season.

In the same article, Dublin’s newly-appointed senior football manager Tommy Lyons responded to the proposals as follows: “I’m happy we’re talking about change. We shouldn’t be afraid of change, irrespective of how it affects individuals. Something radical is needed when you’re dealing with a county of 1.2 million people.

“In isolation, the idea of splitting Dublin in two mightn’t have any particular value but as part of a whole review programme of development and investment, it might well make sense. There are so many areas in the Dublin region that are not properly serviced,” he said.

Over the following years, the special attention duly arrived in the shape of millions of euros in investment. But the split never happened.

Last July, Lyons was speaking once again about Dublin’s funding. But this time he seemed to be singing from a different hymn sheet.

“This isn’t about money. It’s about hard work and county boards not waiting for others to do the heavy lifting,” the former Dublin manager declared in an Irish Independent article from July 4th.

“No amount of cheap shots about money in Dublin will change that. It’s arseboxing of the highest order. Just because an exceptional Dublin senior football team, led by an exceptional manager, is going well people are having a go.

“Fine, if that’s what they want to do, but let’s stick with facts, not stuff that just doesn’t hold up,” he argued.

When asked about the Strategic Review back in 2002, former Dublin football manager Tommy Lyons felt that the splitting of Dublin “made sense” as part of the overall review programme

Lyons did not make any mention of the splitting of Dublin, despite the fact that he felt it “made sense” as part of the overall strategy in 2002.

And why would he? Especially since Dublin were able to receive all the spoils from the 2002 strategic review but without having to take on any of the accompanying pain. It means that what we are left with is a region that has the population and funding of a province, but continues to operate as just another county.

This begs the following question. If Dublin GAA want to operate as a county like any other, then why is it being singled out for “special attention”?

On the other hand, if Dublin is too strategically important to be treated as just another county then why does it continue to operate with just one county team, 17 years after the strategic committee recommended it be split?

Surely they cannot have it both ways.

***

So what can be done to address the imbalance?

The latest suggestion to emanate from the higher echelons of the GAA is a proposal to give the Leinster champions a bye into the provincial semi-finals.

Writing in the Irish Independent on September 6th, Colm Keys noted that the reason given by Leinster GAA chairman Jim Bolger for the proposed change was that it would give counties more time to prepare for an encounter with the top team in Leinster.

So if this proposal goes through, it will effectively mean more special treatment for Dublin GAA. Under the new scenario, they will avoid the opening two rounds in Leinster and will be able to tailor their training schedule to enable them to hit peak fitness later in the summer. Other counties, meanwhile, will need to hit the ground running four or five week’s earlier.

If the GAA truly wanted to give teams a better chance of beating Dublin, then why not have an open draw? That would open up the possibility of Dublin having to travel to Meath or Kildare for an away fixture in early May.

This is how it currently works in Ulster and Connacht, and heavyweights like Tyrone and Mayo have suffered early provincial exits on a number of occasions in recent seasons. So if the GAA was serious about tackling the inequity in Leinster, wouldn’t that be a good place to start?  

Ultimately, though, it is just tinkering around the edges of the problem and ignoring the root cause.    

John Horan and the GAA hierarchy seem intent on pushing the narrative that the current Dublin team is just an outlier and their dominance will soon pass.

But anybody who has been tracking the evolution of their squad over the past six-to-eight years will rightly be sceptical of this argument.

The turnover of players has been too extensive to consider it to be just one exceptional cohort enjoying an extended period of success, as Kerry did in the late-70s and early-80s. Rather, it is a conveyor belt of top class talent being churned out on an annual basis, resulting in the perennial regeneration of this Dublin team.

Apart from the strategic funding, it has also enabled Dublin GAA to secure lucrative sponsorship deals which can be targeted specifically at their inter-county teams. This type of revenue stream is something that will never be within reach for the majority of counties.     

Given all that, it is hard to see any other solution than the splitting of Dublin. For their loyal supporters, that cannot be an easy thing to hear. But it’s not something that fans of the other 31 counties should be cock-a-hoop about either.

Imagine having to watch an All-Ireland final, or even a provincial final, being contested by Dublin North and Dublin South. It is hardly an ideal scenario for anyone, is it?

Yet we are where we are. Dublin has become a financial juggernaut and we now have to deal with the consequences. That particular horse has long since bolted, and, most worrying of all, attendances have been plummeting due to the lack of competitive fare on offer.

So it appears as if we are left with two options; one of which is bad and the other terrible.

The bad option is to split Dublin. The terrible one is to keep the status quo and see the Dubs destroy opponents with depressing regularity, often without having to step out of second gear.  

So what is the solution?

Well if it does mean the splitting of Dublin, then the best we can hope for is that some sort of compromise could be reached that might be agreeable to both sides.

In that vein, I believe that the changes outlined in the following blog post may be one potential way forward……

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