‘Could you imagine the Connacht Warriors playing the Munster Rebels?’

If the GAA does not stall the “runaway train” that is expenditure on inter-county teams, then certain counties will cease to compete at inter-county level and the association will “march blindfolded” into a championship structure contested by franchised outfits.

‘Could you imagine the Connacht Warriors playing the Munster Rebels?’

If the GAA does not stall the “runaway train” that is expenditure on inter-county teams, then certain counties will cease to compete at inter-county level and the association will “march blindfolded” into a championship structure contested by franchised outfits.

That is the view of Connacht Council secretary John Prenty, who used his annual report to highlight how the “copycat tactics” of county boards is driving the GAA into the realm of “elitism, commercialism, and investment in the few over the general good of the association”.

Between 2010 and 2019, spending by the five Connacht counties increased by 100%, rising from €6m at the beginning of the decade to €11.9m last year.

Almost 60% of the €11.9 figure accounts for spend on their flagship teams.

With similar year-on-year increases having played out in the other three provinces, Prenty is concerned by the path counties are hurtling down.

The GAA, he warned, must reconnect with its amateur ethos.

He has called on counties to rein in the amount of money being pumped into their teams or run the risk of entering financial ruin, and to accept that future success cannot be dependent on even greater levels of spending.

“At the beginning of the [last] decade, 2010, the country was in the midst of a deep recession following a number of years of excessive spending by the people of Ireland.

"Have we, as an association, and our county committees in particular, learned anything from the excesses of the past?

"It appears from the evidence of the past 10 years that we have learned very little.

"Our counties have slowly increased their expenditure, year-on-year, due in the main to copycat tactics and the mistaken notion that we must keep up with the perceived expenditure of so-called successful counties,” Prenty writes.

“Analysis of the expenditure [of Connacht’s five counties] shows that, after direct and indirect costs are taken into account, almost 60% of expenditure has been on the inter-county game, which caters for just over 1% of the total playing population.

“The demands of inter-county team managers and players is increasing exponentially to the point that they must train more, have more professional staff involved, and consequently, we must spend more.

“If we do not stall the runaway train, then many of our counties will not be financially viable, some will no longer compete at inter-county level, and we will march blindfolded into a competitive structure whereby the All-Ireland final will be played between franchised teams.

"Could you imagine the Connacht Warriors playing the Munster Rebels?

“It is time to rebalance our actions, confirm our amateur status, and ensure that our culture and ethos is diverted away from elitism, which is leading us on a dangerous path.”

Such is the ever-burdening workload being imposed on inter-county players, as outlined by recent ERSI reports, the Connacht secretary believes it would be useful if GPA top-brass sat down with inter-county managers to discuss and safeguard player welfare.

“This is a game, a pastime that players and officials should enjoy.

Surely the GPA, as the voice of the players, must have a role in addressing the welfare of their members by engaging with team managers to ensure that players are not being burnt out and the demands being placed on them is balanced.

Prenty’s report is also critical of county chairpersons for their part in moving the All-Ireland U20 Football Championship from its summer slot to February/March.

He says county officials cited team preparation costs when advocating for an earlier start.

“The scheduling of the 2020 competition brings players at second and third-level into direct conflict with the county U20 teams.

"The decision to restrict college players to their college teams has not gone down too well, but it is the inevitable result of trying to fit a ‘quart into a pint bottle’.

Again, it highlights the folly of those with no responsibility for scheduling games making flawed decisions based on the cost of team preparation.

“I have no doubt that if the same county officers ensured that the start date for preparations [in 2019] had been adhered to, then the cost factor would have been alleviated.

"Most counties had six months preparation done by the April 1 start date, while some commenced training for the 2020 competition last August.”

Prenty was a member of the fixture calendar review task force and sees it as imperative that their recommendation of a new oversight unit, with responsibility for monitoring club fixtures, as well as the inter-county closed season, is given the green light.

“This is our last chance to get the [club and county] balance right. And if we fail, the alternative may be to remove club fixture scheduling and management out of the hands of county officers and out of the influence of county team managers.

"The future is now.”

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