It is as important to see a regular challenge to the controlling hegemony in sport as it is in any elements of life. Change brings with it hope, uncertainty, opportunity and the all important ingredient of possibility. The longer the few have a monopoly on success the more difficult it is to break.
Let’s take Manchester City’s re-emergence as a major player in English and, soon to be I suspect, European football. Only the poor, spoilt Manchester United supporters out there could begrudge the Premiership a new winner. Since its beginning, only four clubs have won the Premier League title – Manchester United (12), Arsenal and Chelsea (three each), with Blackburn Rovers’ success in 1994–95 sticking out like a rag-shoed boy in the midst of a well-heeled banquet.
Should City seal the deal with a home win over QPR on Sunday, it’s not exactly a ‘victory for the little man’ but nonetheless it stops United’s period of dominance in the most painful way possible. The Stratford End faithful would have preferred any other team to take ‘their’ title and Alex Ferguson’s antics on the sideline in their all important derby manifested that painfully and perfectly.
It’s just a shame it took about the same amount of money we currently owe the Troika for a team to achieve this. And sadly, that means, it’s the moneyed-few that win out again, even if it proves to be a new name on the cup when the final whistles blow on Sunday.
But that is always going to be the case as money matters more and more in world sport.
True, there is a fascinating battle going on just behind these two teams to see who lands the Golden Eggs that are the remaining Champions League positions. Arsenal, Spurs, Newcastle and Chelsea are all still in the hunt. Their potential rewards? Access to even more money that will further the chasm between those to regular qualify for this league of oligarchs and those who do not. The rich get richer…….etc etc.
The GAA’s amateur status and the indigenous nature of our games would seem to make it immune to such financial injustices but this is not the case in the modern era of inter-county games in particular. Admittedly, the larger counties always have had access to greater revenue streams (particularly once direct sponsorship of teams became the norm) but all those taking to the field engaged in similar practices in terms of preparation. However, the money now being spent on teams is revealing a greater and wider divide in terms of access to financial resources than ever before.
While the Dublin county committee traditionally operates a balanced budget of all revenues (running at approximately €5.2 million per year, according to a recent Irish Independent article) the county’s main source of income remains its flagship sponsor, Vodafone.
Other counties trying to emulate this successful business model have fallen foul Celtic Tiger syndrome of living beyond their means while trying to keep up with the Jones. Take Kildare for example. Under Kieran McGeeney they have one target and one target only – All Ireland success – which is fair enough. In their efforts to achieve this, their spending on their senior footballers has contributed to the County Board running into debt requiring a bail-out from Croke Park. The senior football team continues to fundraise for itself independently – financing a recent training camp abroad – while the books of their governing body, i.e. their county board, do not balance. Yet, the chairman of ‘Club Kildare’, the independent county team’s supporters’ club body, was recently quoted as saying an All Ireland title would justify any costs in team preparation. When such a mentality prevails you have to wonder where it will all end? We saw where the Celtic Tiger brought us.
However, the good news is that great success can be achieved in more subtle, incremental and sustainable ways. Just look to our near neighbours in Roscommon and see the incredible success that county has had at underage level over the past decade. Dublin may have proven too much for them in the All Ireland U21 final on Saturday, but rest assured they will be back, and their senior team will benefit from the experience their U21 stars accrued in this year’s journey.
I was speaking to Pat Compton, Roscommon’s Coaching Officer, at a training event I was running in Castlerea last month and he spoke about a rank and file examination of underage structures in the county undertaken some years ago. The resulting refocus on underage has brought success and confidence to the county at all levels. Since 2006 they have contested 10 underage Connacht finals and one All Ireland, with five titles secured. While those victories have been just fruits of their hard work, perhaps more important is the destruction of traditional hang-ups related to playing the so called Connacht big-boys of Galway and Mayo.
The likes of Roscommon and Leitrim will never be able to match the money the big boys bring to the table, but by bettering the cards you bring to the table before the game starts, you can still take your fair share of the pot.