Reaching a first national football final since 2006 is seen locally as a spectacular achievement by manager Kevin Walsh. While Mayo on May 13 remains the focus, Galway will go to Croke Park Sunday looking to secure their first Division 1 league title since 1981.
In 2006, when we met Kerry at the Gaelic Grounds in our last Division 1 league final, we were overcome by a Darran O’Sullivan and Colm Cooper-inspired Kerry. But back then, Galway supporters still believed they were entitled to a seat at the top table.
The county still had many of the greats of the 1998 and 2001 All-Ireland wins such as Padraic Joyce, Michael Donnellan, and Declan Meehan, inspiring young players like myself who grew up watching these heroes at Croke Park.
But in 2018, we are in a new world. For Galway, a national final is new territory.
On the field of play, any sport is about the battle of equals playing by the same rules. As a player, the best feeling was winning a game knowing you had overcome a great opponent like Dublin, as we did in 2002 in an All-Ireland U21 final. But it’s hard to ignore the off-field advantages conferred on Dublin over the last decade.
In the period 2007-2017, Dublin received €16.6m in direct coaching assistance, €15.4m more than Cork, the next highest county, and €15.8m more than Galway (€784,077).
Connacht in its entirety collectively received €3.1m.
Most clubs across Dublin receive subsidies of around €15,000 to €20,000 towards the employment of club coaches, which in turn help clubs drive large membership incomes.
Should every county not get the same funding on a pro-rata basis?
Galway have seen firsthand the benefits a full-time coach brings to a club. Liam Mellows hurling club hired a full-time coach a few years back. This year they won their first county senior hurling title in 47 years. Mellows funded the coach themselves; they got little or no funding support from Croke Park. They are now the model that every club in Galway in hurling and football aspires to.
The Dublin coaching system is conducted in a professional and businesslike manner and they must be admired for this. They’ve always enjoyed population advantages but were never as dominant in football as they are today. Other counties must heed their coaching template. But if we did, would we get the financial support from Croke Park?
The Thomas Davis club in Dublin closed a land deal for a reported €4m in late 2017 and former All-Ireland champions, Ballyboden St Enda’s, have secured a similar deal in the past. These clubs must be commended for their financial savvy. But even clubs with bulging bank balances are still getting financial coaching support. Do they need it? Could this funding be better distributed?
Croke Park says they are taking action. In 2017, Dublin GAA received funding of €1,298,630, an 11% reduction on the previous year. At that rate, Dublin will be on an equal footing with other counties by 2023! This rate of change is far too slow.
For Galway, there are other, unique issues. From 2009 to 2017, the participation of the Galway hurlers in the Leinster Championship generated €3.47m in gate receipts.
The Leinster Council returned a paltry €130,000 to the Galway County Board.
Essentially, every team in Leinster has benefited financially from Galway’s participation, except Galway.
Galway fans have paid to see Galway hurlers playing in Croke Park, with most of our money going towards the capital and coaching development of every team in the competition, bar ourselves.
Thankfully, with the advent of the new round-robin Leinster Championship, Galway will now receive their fair financial share.
Separately, however, Galway GAA CEO John Hynes must manage the clubs of Galway in the financing of repayments to Croke Park on the €2.8m loan for the failed training centre development outside Athenry. Surely there could be leeway, a write-down on the capital owed to reflect the lost contributions to the county between 2009 to 2016?
Galway does not have access to even one floodlit 4G pitch or all-weather GAA pitch to host games or train.
In the bad weather last year, the Galway senior footballers spent weeks driving to Ballyhaunis in Mayo to train on the only full-sized football pitch in Connacht.
In Dublin, there are more than 20 such pitches — before we begin to discuss the recent Sports Capital allocations by the Department of Sport. Population imbalance alone does not explain this equality.
Dublin GAA is in a good place and the GAA needs the capital to be strong. But fairness is important too. Maybe a discussion through the forum of the Dail Committee for Sport would be the best way to resolve the equality issue.