The bottom line: to fans, it’s the sport that matters

It was probably during the winter of 1994 that, even in terms of #GAA, my sporting horizons began to broaden. The back end of that year was, you see, spent following the escapades of Seneschalstown in the #Leinster Club SFC. Throughout games against Sarsfields of #Kildare, St Joseph’s from #Laois and #Dublin’s Kilmacud Crokes.

From there, lifelong friendships spawned. The same can be said about countless clubs in Meath and around the country as well as acquaintances made in rugby and soccer and horse racing and innumerable other disciplines. And, essentially, such are the things which matter most.

Yes, we would all love if all the sporting entities we are interested in were all successful all the time, but that’s not how this gig works. Followers appreciate that fact and – by and large – take the rough with the smooth. The bottom line usually is that to fans, regardless of the code concerned, it’s the sport that matters.

At a time when sport continues to be increasingly commercialised, that has meant supporters and followers of sporting organisations digging even deeper into their hard earned. Lifestyle choices aren’t what they used to be and that has created a marked diversion in the sporting road. A sea change which has transcended the professional and amateur ranks.

On the one hand, it has been refreshing to see Liverpool supporters dig in against FSG’s ill-thought notions of cashing in Jurgen Klopp’s popularity. There’s no doubt the German is a charismatic figure – an ideal replacement in the Premiership for the hastily defenestrated Jose Mourinho. Nor can it be disputed that the Anfield club have, in relative context, improved since his arrival.

However, statistics seldom lie and – an impending League Cup final engagement with Manchester City notwithstanding – they remain a talented, but inconsistent, mid table team. Will Klopp convert them into title contenders? Given time that will probably be an affirmative. There hasn’t, though, been any rapidity in repeated outpourings of excellence which might have gone some way to justifying a ticket price hike.

Mere attempts to implement such cost increases again marinate long held irritations pertaining to those in charge of sporting organisations in certain places having little knowledge of or interest in the sport at hand itself. In that scenario, the profit and loss account dictates policy and all bar the powerful end up the losers.

In reality, of course, financial stability dictates direction within amateur sport as well. And for none more so than the GAA. Furthermore, no matter how it might be dressed up, there’s a real and widening gulf between the haves and have nots within the association. It would be easy to just say Dublin have and the rest haven’t. Surely that’s taking the easy option though.

The disparity from county to county – and even between individual groupings in certain places – is stark. Clubs folding or at best amalgamating is not folly, it is happening. For many clubs, survival is often the sole goal. With the result that new and diverse ways of attaining funding are having to be explored.

During the years of – albeit relative – economic prosperity many sporting clubs upgraded their facilities. These jobs tend to go through fazes. As in, for a while a bar in the clubhouse was the ‘in’ thing, then maybe floodlit pitches or viewing stands. Astro pitches being one of the more recent fads.

Many clubs across the sporting sphere have them. Both as a means for their own membership to train when grass fields were off limits and, increasingly, by way of putting much needed weight in the coffers on foot of renting the facilities out. All of which makes the recent decision by the GAA hierarchy to reprimand Longford club Dromard for allowing a soccer coaching camp backed by former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher on their grounds illogical and counterproductive.

Hardliners will, doubtless, hark back to the line about only GAA sports being allowed on their grounds. Such stances not only expose the last vestiges of the association which are resistant to change but, even more so, they fail to acknowledge the different, competitive world in which clubs now have to try and satisfy existing members and compete for new ones.

Surely it could be reasonably argued that, in this day and age that such preclusions are past their sell by date. It’s worth saying again – to the majority of fans the actual sport they happen to be interested in is all that matters to them and they are unlikely to be too bothered about how funds are accrued to keep them afloat.

The GAA should be mindful that small minded actions such as censuring Dromard could make the struggle to survive even more arduous for some.

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