Much has been made of the imbalance in the preparation of inter-county teams due to the availability or rather lack of finance in some counties.
The call to the GAA to address this imbalance has been around for some time, but perhaps more so at present. Now that the gap is widening between the strong contenders and the rest, the pleas for help might be heard.
By and large counties which enjoy significant success also have the ability to generate sizeable income. Admittedly, costs are higher also, but the hype generated by provincial or All-Ireland success generally means that supporters are more favourably disposed to financially helping their county.
In the past decade the preparation of inter-county teams has been taken to a new level. However, that only applies to counties where the financial resources allow the engagement of a wide range of professional personnel with skills previously seen only in international sports.
Every inter-county side is well catered for when it comes to medical expertise. Team doctors in almost every county are as familiar as the team manager and in many cases they are a strong confidant of the Bainisteóir.
The scale of other medical resources is usually down to what a County Board can afford. This is where the playing pitch differs in some counties.
Health and wellness could also be bracketed under the medical brief and again we see most counties engaging specialists in this area to ensure, for example, that the player’s dietary requirements are identified and documented.
Sports psychology is now an integral part of both team and player preparation for games. Inter-county sides have not been slow to engage experts in this area but, again, such expertise come at a cost.
The support team might also consist of goalkeeping, defence and forwards coaches, all most likely former players who have excelled in one or other of those positions.
And then there are the match statisticians. To some this may be an over-hyped area of team preparation, but the reality is that documenting every move and score in a game means mentors can quickly analyse individual and team performances.
Technology is now affording team mentors the opportunity to analyse players and teams in a manner which was not possible in the past. Third level colleges are now running course modules dealing specifically with this subject, with some graduates already deployed in many counties.
From a manager’s perspective statistics do not lie so a player’s display, including any deficiencies in his performance, will quickly emerge once the results appear on the after-match report.
The number of support personnel involved with inter-county sides varies from county to county. However, one just needs to count the number of people involved with the top sides to appreciate why the annual cost of preparing those teams is significant.
The reality is that many counties simply cannot afford the scale of resources used by some of their neighbours. That is why Croke Park is now reviewing the level of funding to all counties.
A possible outcome might be an increase in the level of grants to counties where current resources cannot meet their training costs. Some counties with limited resources have developed a close relationship with third level colleges to assist them with team preparation. This is to be welcomed.
The GAA nationally has also developed a strong relationship with these institutions and many of these colleges now employ a full-time GAA coach/administrator. That relationship has expanded further through the development of courses with specific GAA content, resulting in many colleges investing in resources and technologies to meet a growing demand.
Many graduates from these courses are being deployed in counties and clubs, which helps to improve our games and offers great support to mentors and players alike.