By Darren Casserly
The GAA is the largest amateur sports organisation in the world. This is a statement that, at least at inter–county level, needs an asterisk next to it following the release of the 2019 budgets, which shows that GAA county teams spend over a combined 30 million euro for the first time. This is also an increase of 2 million on 2018. This makes the sport bigger than the League of Ireland and looks like it is only going to keep growing into the future, with more new stadiums being built at capacities of as much as 45,000 (such as the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh), which looks to be the future for GAA stadiums.
However, the most surprising thing to a lot of people who would not follow the GAA that closely, is that GAA teams are not in financial ruin, but for the most part are earning a healthy profit through sponsorship, fundraising and gate receipts. Galway GAA has earned nearly 2 million euro from gate receipts alone. This just goes to show how far the sport has come in the last 20 years. This isn’t the sport of your parents, at inter–county level anyway, with not just increased finances, but also increased quality on the pitch. This increase in funding has allowed county players to train more, train better and become far greater athletes than there was a mere 15 years ago.
While players are still no getting direct monetary benefits of playing intercounty GAA, indirect benefits are becoming more and more generous. There always was an aspect of county players being able to land cushy jobs through their football connections. The way players benefit from playing for their counties has changed, with sponsorship deals becoming more available and more lucrative than ever, with a great example of this being Bernard Brogan, who has been the face of Supervalu for several years now. The cushy jobs have also gotten more lucrative for players and all you have to do is look at the Cathal McShane saga that went on recently. He had a trial with an Aussie rules team and looked almost certain to be leaving Tyrone this off-season, but surprisingly announced that he was to stay with Tyrone following a job offer from the Keystone Group. This was met with much scepticism from GAA fans who know this kind of story all too well.
However, saying all this, at club level, for the most part, these changes have not had much of an effect, with the game remaining very much the same as it has always been from a financial aspect. From a footballing aspect at the top end of the game, there has been a lot of improvement, in large part thanks to teams like Corofin, who have driven the quality of football at club level to an unbelievable degree on their course to claiming three club All-Ireland’s in a row.
Whether you like it or not, the inter–county game will never be the same as it was thanks to the funding around the game, but from a fan’s point of view, there is only positives that can be gained from this. With better quality games making the game more exciting in football and hurling, who knows what the future will hold for a game that is changing and improving quicker than ever?