Investment at bottom end as crucial as cap at the top: Harbinson

Antrim football manager Lenny Harbinson. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Antrim football manager Lenny Harbinson. Picture by Cliff Donaldson Antrim football manager Lenny Harbinson. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

ANTRIM manager Lenny Harbinson believes that the GAA must deal with the growing spending on inter-county teams by not only introducing a spending cap, but also having a minimum spend on coaching and clubs.

The debate around the amount of finance county boards are putting directly into county teams has intensified since GAA director general Tom Ryan revealed last week that the 2019 figure was €30m.

That represented an increase of almost 12 per cent in a single year, and matched up to the vast majority of the €36.1m the GAA brought in from gate receipts. That figure was boosted by the €3m from an All-Ireland football final replay, as well as an increase in ticket prices last year.

Harbinson, whose team have condensed their training down to just two nights a week and are doing double sessions of gym followed by pitch, says that not only must there be a spending cap on county squads, but that county boards must be held responsible for investing in other areas.

“Have a cap at one end and a minimum spend threshold at the other,” said the Saffrons’ boss.

“There should be a cap. It should be up to a value of £500,000 per code, to cover all their teams from development squads up.

“If Antrim want to spend £200,000 that’s up to them, and if Dublin want to spend right up to the limit, that’s ok.

“What they should be looking at is that every county, depending on their size and number of clubs, should have a minimum spend on coaching and a minimum amount going back into clubs.

“That might be £100,000. They have to show how they’re putting money back into their own county, to get structures in place.

“You need to have a twin-track approach, where you can’t overspend on your county teams and you must take a portion of the budget you have and make sure it’s being invested in grassroots and clubs, to keep the heart of the organisation ticking over.”

In a wide-ranging discussion in today’s Irish News, Harbinson reveals his proposed structure for the championship and states his belief that the existence of provincial councils is one of the biggest barriers to progress in the GAA.

While accepting that some degree of spending on inter-county teams is an inevitability, Harbinson says that the four provincial bodies “have too much say… consequently, the GAA can’t control things.”

“For the greater good of the association, as a Gael, I don’t want to see my own county or any county in financial trouble. That has big consequences.

“Similarly when you read reports about stadiums and whatever else, there are a lot of things wrong. The provincial boards probably have too much say and sway in lots of things. Consequently, the GAA can’t control things.

“If you look at it from finance and fixtures, you have the tail wagging the dog. Central Council should be in control of everything and delegating it out to whatever departments, and regionalise it.

“But you have the Ulster Council and the others making their own fixtures and shoe-horning that into a national fixture list, and it’s not fit for purpose in the 21st century. It’s not working.

“Centralisation, with proper checks and balances, is how to run an organisation. Yes, you delegate out, but it all has to be controlled.

“All the GAA had to do was say ‘thank you very much’ to the provincial organisations.

“Ulster, let’s say they run on a budget of £5m, to run schools, coaching, supporting the community, all of which they’re very good at. I’m not saying do away with it, but what Central Council could do is take all the finances.

“They tell Ulster Council that they’re granted £5m, but it’s controlled centrally. Likewise do the same with the rest. Take all the provincial championships away.

“You can’t do any of that while you have the provincial councils in place, controlling things, controlling fixtures, controlling stadium builds and wanting their slice of the cake.”

* See P68-69 for Lenny Harbinson’s plan to reshape the championship and the GAA’s structures