GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: There's more to a county than its senior teams

The expenditure on Tyrone's county teams has been a major talking point in recent weeks. Picture by Philip Walsh

£525. That’s what it would have cost Tyrone county board to buy 35 foam rollers and the resistance bands that the players were instead asked to self-fund.

It was a much more costly PR mistake than it would have been a financial blow to the county’s books. From an income of £1.38m in 2016, it was never going to be a bank-breaker.

To have their internal affairs in the glare of the national spotlight over a sum of money that someone could have walked down to Kelly’s Inn, asked for and walked back up the hill to Garvaghey with seems a trifle foolish.

Despite the statements from Sean Cavanagh and Mickey Harte in recent days pouring cold water over any disaffection, it’s obvious that there is a degree of annoyance among the players about the issue.

As the anonymous statement to NewsTalk revealed, the players’ gripe wasn’t over the £15 they were asked to pay, but rather the principle.

“It's becoming impossible to prepare ourselves to win an All-Ireland in a climate of cut, cut, cut...” said the letter that’s joined in infamy by the goody bag.

The root of the disgruntlement is easy sourced.

The letter was sent to the Dublin radio station less than a week after the Irish Independent listed the spending of each inter-county team last year, and Tyrone were 25th on the list.

Six of the All-Ireland football quarter-finalists were in the top eight spenders.

Clare, who wouldn’t have expected their footballers to outlast their hurlers, were 12th on the list, spending just over €760,000.

The All-Ireland finalists, Dublin and Mayo, spent over €3m between them.

The Tyrone players see that list. They see their own expenditure of £430,000 (€494,127) away down at the bottom.

Some feel aggrieved at having to fight for their expenses.

They see the county itself running a surplus on its overall accounts for 2016, and they see that they fell short of their dream of an All-Ireland last year.

You can see it from their side of the fence. But it looks worse from the other side.

Whether it’s €490,000 or €1.6m, these are considerable sums of money to be spending on a tiny section of the playing population in any county.

There is far more to any county than its senior teams.

Tyrone ended up with a surplus last year but they still spent 34 per cent of their entire income on their county teams. Paying back over £400,000 on their debts relating to Garvaghey and Healy Park is, in one way, a massive drain on their income, but that major investment in those facilities has helped Tyrone climb back to the head of the pile in Ulster.

Their investment in coaching has been as shrewd as any over the last 20 years – you only need to look at their minor record for evidence.

They may have finished the year with a financial surplus of just under £150,000 but in the modern climate, that’s not a huge rainy day fund.

The financial pressure on counties is exceptionally heavy, and getting worse.

At Congress, Donegal county chairman Sean Dunnion hinted at issues in his county in meeting the demands of the renewed players’ charter.

He admitted being shocked at the guidelines of the document, which outlines the minimum that counties should be providing their players with as part of the new GAA/GPA deal – which Dunnion said was sold to counties as being cost neutral, before it became quickly apparent who would actually foot the increased bill.

It’s an astonishing document.

The new 65c mileage rate (up from 50c) and €20-a-week limit on nutrition are well established.

What it might surprise you to learn is the depth of entitlement inter-county players are granted under the new agreement.

For example, every player that is part of a National League panel is entitled to at least three pairs of boots worth a minimum of €375 in total.

Every player is entitled to receive a wealth of new gear, including a training top, shorts, socks, a wet top / windcheater, wet bottoms, half-zip top, t-shirt / polo shirt, tracksuit bottoms, a jacket / gilet, kit bags, match day shorts and socks, and gloves.

On top of being provided with meals after every training session and game, it’s also the responsibility of team management to ensure that players have access to a qualified nutritionist and that any requirements they have in the line of recovery drinks, protein, vitamins etc are sourced and provided to players.

With the inclusion of expenses for pre-approved gym sessions and medical sessions that weren’t part of the last charter, all of this represents a significant increase in costs for a county board from the previous deal.

The new charter is just another example of the growing divide between the club and inter-county player.

Some county players may feel aggrieved about expenses but the club scene is absolutely littered with lads that travel from university in Belfast down home to Derry and Tyrone and Fermanagh two or three times a week for training.

They pay their own diesel.

They buy their own boots and gloves and socks and shorts.

They pay their own membership.

They buy their own food after training and games.

Best of all, the vast majority of clubs around Ireland pay into their county’s fundraising wing.

A considerable chunk of the money generated by such bodies, and which is then pumped into funding the senior teams, comes from the pockets of club players themselves.

At the grassroots, it is still about giving rather than receiving.

It’s become very difficult to argue the same case at the top.

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