Brian Flannery Reports
When Liam Sheedy returned to manage Tipperary this season after a gap of nine years he was asked for his observations about what had changed in the intervening years. The Portroe man quickly quipped that the first thing he noticed was that he now needed a second bus just to carry the backroom team! The ‘Arms Race’ for inter-county teams to become more ‘professional’ in their preparation has resulted in hyper-inflation in the cost of preparing teams. Huge amounts of money is now being spent on players gear, travelling expenses, GPS trackers, sleep monitors, catering as well as employment of strength and conditioning coaches, physios, dieticians, doctors, phycologists, life coach, staticians, performance analysist’s and whatever else you’re having yourself.
Now I readily realise the moment you preface any statement with the “back in my day” it’s a sure-fire sign of advancing old age. However my first memory of getting as much as a pair of boots from the county board was back in 1998. And just to place this ‘gift’ in some sort context the then Waterford senior hurling team had already contested a League final and two Munster finals that same season before the pair of Puma Kings arrived. Of course given the general Irish weather and playing conditions I choose a pair of ‘six studs’. A cruel twist of faith and an unusually dry August in 1998 put me in a dilemma on the eve of the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny. That Saturday I made the decision that the likely hard surface in the new Croke Park would require ‘moulded’ studs rather than my sponsored six studs. I searched the whole of Waterford city for a pair of multi-studded Puma Kings and the only pair available was a cream coloured pair from Alfie Hales. What was one to do?
I choose comfort over fashion and duly paraded Corke Park in my cream boots. Simpler times to be honest.The imperative of being the most ‘professionally’ prepared team for an amateur sport is the oxymoron that has led us all to this hyper-inflation.Last Thursday we had the latest report on the cost of preparing Waterford teams at the County Convention. The figures while eye-watering are common among most counties at this stage. Currently if the All-Ireland winners employed an expert on set dancing then every county would have one the following year. Training camps (home based or foreign) are regular features of team preparation now and all this increased expenditure leaves County boards and supporter clubs on a veritable treadmill attempting to keep the wheels turning and the funds available to meet ever increasing demands.
Expenditure on Teams 2019 (€ 2012 (€) Increase (€)% Increase
Senior Hurling Team 434,166 209,804 224,362 107%
Senior Football Team 279,266 117,000 162,266 138%
Development Squads 115,597 58,084 57,513 99%
The Consumer Price Index in Ireland shows a cumulative inflation figure of less than 5% in total since 2012 yet the increase in expenditure on our main inter-county teams is in excess of 100%. This GAA hyper-inflation rate is more akin to a country like Angola or Sierra Leone.
There is little doubt that this rate of increase year on year is unsustainable. The spend on the Waterford senior footballers; for example increased by an eye-catching €58,000 in the last year alone (+26%). I’m sure manager Benji Whelan will argue its’ money well spent but for a football team operating in the bowels of Division 4 to be costing in excess of a quarter of a million does raise questions. Sure much more is spent on the hurling team but the hurlers are competing in Division 1 and generate the vast bulk of the revenue coming into the coffers of the county board. The hurlers will be live on TV at least four times during the summer in 2020 while one of their league games is currently scheduled to be televised. This is the kind of exposure that generates sponsorship interest and brings many commercial and fundraising opportunities. The income from the Waterford senior hurling championship in gate receipts was also over twice that generated by the senior football championship. It does seem that hurling operations is subsidising the football side of the house. The largest increase in expenditure since 2012 as per above Table is on our Division 4 football team while from a relatively low base the increase on Development Squads over the same seven year period is €57,513.
It would be far more equitable if revenue and expenditure pertaining to all inter-county teams was centralised in Croke Park with each team in the different divisions allocated the same level of funding. The level of funding available to Dublin has raised much comment this season and there is little doubt that the smaller counties like Waterford will struggle to keep pace with amounts already being spent on the preparation of inter-county teams. At some stage a cap on spending will have to come into place. All counties deserve a fair shot at competing and an equalisation on funds available in preparation of teams would be a good place to start.
Last week also saw the changing of the guard with Sean Michael O’Regan taking over as Chairperson of the Waterford County Board.
The outgoing Chairperson Paddy Joe Ryan completed over twenty five years of service on the county board, fourteen of these as Chairperson which is quite the service for any Gael. I’m sure Paddy Joe will remain a frequent visitor to both Walsh Park and Fraher Field in his retirement. While I would have disagreed on many of Paddy Joe’s policy positions with regard to Waterford GAA I wish him all the best in his well-deserved break from active service on the board.