Jarlath Burns: ‘Rising cost of county game has become a noose around neck of county boards’

Over 600 people took part at Down GAA's fundraiser at the Canal Court Hotel. Guests included GAA President-elect Jarlath Burns. Picture by Louis McNally
New GAA president Jarlath Burns made his first address at Saturday's annual Congress in Newry. Picture by Louis McNally

NEW GAA president Jarlath Burns has promised to tackle head on the rising costs of inter-county set-ups – claiming it has become “a noose around the neck of county boards”.

The Silverbridge man, who official took over from Larry McCarthy at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry on Saturday, had previously raised concerns about the direction in which the inter-county game is headed.

And, in his first address as Uachtarain, Burns – whose son Jarly Og has followed in his footsteps by playing with Armagh - claimed it was the players who suffered as rising expectations took an increasing toll.

“Over the past three years, I have sat in every GAA county committee room in Ireland on two occasions. In 2019, I did a lot of talking and in 2023, I did a lot of listening,” he said.

“And the message from all counties was the same. The senior inter-county game is becoming a financial noose around the necks of county boards as they seek new and innovative ways of giving their teams that little edge over their rivals.

“And at the end of the year, there can still only be a very small number of captains holding the cups, regardless of how much money has been spent on preparing county teams.

“Last year, we were astounded and delighted by the generosity of JP McManus with his €32m for clubs, but remarkably, we spend considerably more every year in the amount of money we invest in our county teams.

“And we all know we’ll have far more to show for JP’s money with a far wider legacy and a deeper level of appreciation because his money is going straight to the grassroots who will spend this money wisely.

“Our county team expenditure is divided between bus companies, hotels and travel expenses, with the back-room teams also a major cost. And where does this €40m come from? It comes from us.

“You people in front of me; busting your gut to get sponsors, begging people who have money to spare, raffling houses, cars, holidays, running golf classics, nights at the races, nights at the dogs, strictly come dancings, gala dinners, auctions and even trying to get rock concerts into our grounds.

“Every year it’s a struggle as we, the volunteers, begin the task of gathering up enough cash to keep the county bandwagon on the road, the vast majority of us knowing exactly how it will end up.

“And of course, it is the players who suffer. More training, greater expectation, less time with family and of course, the wrath of the social media warriors if they put a foot wrong.”

A huge factor in the rising costs in the inter-county game is the amount of training and preparation taking place – but Burns claimed county boards have been left a feeling of “helplessness” as a consequence, and revealed he had established a new amateur status committee to tackle the matter.

“We are all at fault and at the same time, we are all victims of the natural desire to be better, faster and stronger,” continued the 56-year-old.

“When we hand our team to the new manager, we do so in the full expectation that he is going to deliver - promotion, or a provincial title, or even an All-Ireland, and when it goes wrong, they get the blame.

“Of course, in the environment where our managers operate, they will want to create a high-performance culture that will get the best out of their available players. And the GPA are the representatives of the players.

“They will argue that if managers are going to ask players to train six times a week, they will rightly demand the players get expenses to pay for their travel plus whatever bit of gear comes along with that.

“Along with the sense of helplessness felt by county chairs and treasurers, is the feeling that we have gone too far and can’t go back. And we all know we have to. Because all of this falls under the single most important value we have - the amateur status.

“Our players are no longer amateurs. Of course, like us, they don’t get paid for their efforts, but that’s where it ends. We have never properly stipulated what an amateur status looks like in the modern world.

“The last person to examine it was Peter Quinn back in 1996. I have established a new amateur status committee which will look at all aspects of county expenditure and I expect them to propose significant changes to budgets for county team expenditure.

“The problem is ours. So has the solution to be. We owe it to the counties with lower demographics who are really struggling to make ends meet. And I promise, I will do my utmost to stop the runaway train that is the preparation of county teams.”