So Dublin played their first game outside of Croke Park in 10 years and, unsurprisingly, they didn’t miss a beat against a Laois side who battled as manfully as they could in the face of a vastly superior opponent.
Being that all-conquering force seems like a common theme no matter who the Dubs come up against these days. But it wasn’t always that way.
Much continues to be made of the vast resources they enjoy in terms of the disproportionate amount of Central Council funding available to them.
It has been well documented they received €1.46m in games development funding alone from Croke Park — Saturday’s opponents Laois received €165,000. In total, Dublin received just under 50% of the total games development funding available nationally from the GAA in 2015.
Back in 2011, when the country was in the midst of an economic collapse, Dublin stuck their head above the parapet and showed a vision and a leadership to launch their strategic action plan called “The Blue Wave”. In it, one of their loftier ambitions — right there in black and white for all to see — was a target of winning Sam Maguire every three years, and the Liam MacCarthy every five years. They were scoffed at.
“The Blue Wave” was a combat strategy that outlined how Dublin GAA would battle for the hearts and minds of 1.3m people within their county. Gaelic football had slumped from the glory days in the capital to an occasional curiosity enjoyed by a minority.
Soccer, rugby and basketball were all competing in the same market for the same players. They made no apologies for the unashamed pursuit of finance from the Irish Sports Council and Croke Park to put boots on the ground to help fulfil their ambitions. The term “boots on the ground” refers to the belief that military success is best achieved through the direct physical presence of troops in a conflict area.
In this context, Dublin GAA didn’t invest in bricks or mortar, instead hiring nearly 50 Games Promotion Officers at the time, (now Games Development Administrators) to work directly with individual clubs and their primary and secondary feeder schools.
The agreement for funding was based on the clubs themselves providing a significant portion of the GDA’s salary while the county board would make up the remainder. Some of the larger clubs like Kilmacud Crokes and Ballyboden employ two full-time coaches to help with the huge volume of juvenile players and mentors. One coach is subsidised by the county board, while the other is fully funded by the club.
Those GDA’s have responsibility for achieving and maintaining the highest standards within each individual club. They provide coach education to mentors, ensuring all have the requisite coaching qualifications to make sure the kids coming in their gate are receiving the best possible GAA experience.
Their work with the clubs is primarily about coaching the coaches, continually upskilling their knowledge base through workshops, online resources and setting up communities of practice so club volunteers aren’t overburdened, and feel recognised and appreciated.
These GDA’s also target all the primary schools feeding those clubs. Here their work focuses more on the kids.
The goal, from their hand improve fundamental movement skills, working on children’s bi-lateral co-ordination and ball familiarity. Crucially, it’s about developing a sustainable relationship from a young age between the kids, their primary school, and their club by making sure their first sustained experience of GAA is a positive one.
They’re getting them hooked.
These Blue Wave GDA’s have helped raise the standard and profile of Gaelic football within the capital to new heights.
Their work within schools and clubs, although unheralded, has also helped funnel elite younger players towards their development squads where they start to focus on playing together in the Dublin jersey.
Not many are scoffing at them now.
In Kerry, while not dealing with the same volume of kids as the Dubs, we’d have GDA’s regularly visiting every club and primary school in the county, helping to develop an improved standard of coaching, coupled with cultivating the basic movement, ball skills and grá for the game in the kids.
The point is, people are bemoaning Dublin’s financial power, but money without proper structure and vision is like trying to hold water in a sponge.
Eventually, it will dry up and you’re left with nothing to quell your thirst.
Dublin have that leadership and they continue to make a compelling case for the money they receive and distribute into their games development staff.
If other county administrators focused on a longer term vision to attract and draw down more funding for people instead of stadiums and the like they would be doing their county a great service.
Of course, Central Council must do a better job of finding a more equitable way of spreading the financial gravy to every county, but if those counties lack the leadership and administrators with the vision and drive to go looking for that money and the ability to use it wisely, then the gap between them and Dublin will grow and grow.
Yes, the Dubs are the best market for sponsors, and they appear on TV and the papers more than any other county and so on… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
It just means it’s more difficult. And of course, Louth or Laois aren’t going to attract the same level of commercial investment as Dublin, and central council must certainly become more assertive in finding a way to balance the books in that regard. But that’s where leadership and strategic thinking must emerge.
Stop-gap solutions, like bringing in Anthony Cunningham and Shane Curran won’t help the likes of Laois bridge the gap in 2016.
And that holds true for every county — success is not achieved overnight —- it needs a plan, a vision, and it’s primarily about people. So stop giving out about how much Dublin are getting and what they’re doing, just follow their lead, because what they’re doing is working.
The more boots you have on the ground; the better chance you have of winning the war.
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