MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Elite sport costs money - a lot of money

This is the height of the GAA season, with the proof visible all over. All-Ireland semi-final slots are filling up, heroic comebacks and stunning defeats are heralded on the back pages, the sun’s out, costs are rising...

Sorry about the last item. It may not fit into the bucolic version of pastoral you’re partial to when it comes to the GAA, but it’s an uncomfortable reality that elite sport costs money. A lot of money. It costs to participate and it also costs to facilitate.

That’s why the new GPA-GAA deal is so significant. Yesterday there was some frowning at the detail, with a few comments thrown at the nutrition provision (to quote the release, “new refundable & vouched nutrition expense (to the amount of €1.2 million per year) to be introduced.” )

This is one of the most common-sense aspects of the deal, however, because fuelling an intercounty player’s engine is a spectacularly expensive business.

This writer met a former intercounty player last year for a coffee, and the player offered me some of the snack he’d picked up in a nearby health shop, mostly dried fruit and hairy nuts, when we sat down.

He pointed out that although he’d retired, he still had those good habits - but just a couple of those bags had set him back almost nine euro, a tasty slap even for a working man.

He added that that was the kind of wound to the pocket that would disturb a student’s economic system for a week or more, and given the number of students who now make up intercounty panels everywhere, it was the kind of hidden cost that people don’t usually recognise.

There’s a curious doublethink many people engage in when it comes to the GAA and how it’s underpinned financially.

Many observers prefer to focus on the amateur ethos without ever considering how that ethos is facilitated - and has to be facilitated actively, not allowed to blossom like a fragile peony - in a professional way.

If you want to enable a nineteen-year-old who’s studying sixty miles from home to be fed properly ahead of a punishing night’s training, how exactly are you going to do that?

He can stroll down to his college canteen and pay for his pasta and chicken with an appeal to love of the jersey, but most cash registers will only accept cash or cards.

Earlier this year this newspaper published a graphic of an intercounty team engaged in one training session and broke down the costs on a conservative basis.

It topped out at over two thousand euro with the bar set particularly low, and subsequent to publication a couple of county board officials quietly made the point to this writer that we could have doubled or even trebled some of the costs on show.

For a county participating seriously in both hurling and football at senior level and enjoying a reasonable run at underage, for instance, weekly costs could drift north of €35,000. Per week.

Yet there are still people who feel that discussing the finances of county boards and management teams is vulgar and should be avoided at all costs, much like the Victorians who wanted to bowdlerise Shakespeare.

Sorry, but you can’t have the glamour without understanding the grit.

In that context the news that the players’ body is to receive increased funding is less bolt from the blue than common sense.

There was a time when such an announcement would have precipitated a good deal of soul-searching about the spirit of the games, and that may still occur.

The GPA has vocal critics whose opposition is entrenched, though their criticism is usually lacking a feasible alternative to the player organisation.

It may have caught their eye that yesterday’s announcement included provisions for increased oversight and transparency in the organisation’s dealings with the GAA itself.

That may not satisfy its opponents — it’s difficult to see what will — but it’s another sign of the GPA’s absorption into the GAA’s bloodstream, and an indication that its days as a foreign body are receding further and further.

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