With uncertainty over how life in general will pan out over the next few months as the country continues to battle the effects of Covid-19, the GAA season and all that goes with it is also battling to find its place.
Last Saturday night, Mayo GAA chairperson Liam Moffatt sat down with the Mayo Advertiser to discuss the current situation across a variety of areas for the Mayo GAA and the challenges ahead.
First and foremost is the health and well being of the members of the GAA community in the county, the chairperson said, while adding that behind the scenes, there is still a lot of things going on that have to be dealt with.
Last year ended with Mayo heading into the All Ireland senior final once again, but shortly after that, the county was in the headlines again for the wrong reasons, with three members of the senior team's backroom setup being suspended for three months, after they attended that All Ireland final unaccredited. The issue was discussed at the January meeting of the county board which took place last Thursday night and again, on Saturday, Moffatt outlined the county board's response to that breach and how seriously they took it.
He told the Advertiser: "We said it the last night very openly, that it was very regrettable. We did hold a review, we got back on January 4 and had the review on January 5 and held the executive meeting on the 8th, so we did act swiftly on it.
"As a result of that process, three unaccredited members were suspended under rule 7.2, which is for bringing the association into disrepute - and each received a three-month penalty.
"It is regrettable - the unaccredited members were hugely apologetic about it, we all know why they did it, it was borne out of frustration; there are numerous other stakeholders who were attending the games and these characters were just very frustrated; they were helping the team get there and they couldn’t gain access and yet so many other stakeholders can.
"So I can understand their frustration, but it doesn’t mean what happened was right and they were the first ones to put their hands up and they confirmed they acted alone; and it’s regrettable and they have apologised and they have been appropriately sanctioned and it has been discussed at the opening county board meeting, where there were over 70 people on the call."
Asked if those who were sanctioned were paid for their services, would it not be a dismissible action from their positions in the backroom team - Moffat replied: "None of them are contractually obliged - there is no contract in place, and again, as we said, we have acted on it fairly quickly; the minimum suspension for bringing the association into disrepute is two months - as was clarified the last night - and we applied a three-month sanction and we also applied it from the start of the inter-county season.
"So if Mayo get to the All Ireland final, they lose 50 per cent of season, semi-final two thirds of season, and if Mayo get beaten in the Connacht final, have lost 75 per cent of the season. So I think, that in the context, it was regrettable, it was wrong - we have acted swiftly and we have applied strict sanction. When you look at that - and I do take your point and it is a valid point -but we have suspended them and obviously, if someone is getting expenses for a professional service and now those services are taken away for three months - that also has a financial impact for the service holder; so we have discussed it openly at the county board meeting and that was the decision on that."
Value for Cairde Maigh Eo members
One of Mayo's most successful fundraising arms in recent years has been the Cairde Maigh Eo membership, which was based around the sales of season tickets. So successful was this initiative, that for the last number of years, no new members were being taken on.
With the issues around Covid-19 meaning access to games will more than likely be off the table for supporters in the near future, the county board is looking at ways to try and make a package available to supporters to sign up to, that will offer them value.
Moffatt explained: "The whole season ticket aspect of it is uncertain because it is highly unlikely there will be anyone there at the games - so there are different connotations there being discussed through the county board, about how to give value to people from a Cairde Maigh Eo membership. In light of the fact it is highly likely that there will be no-one at the inter-county games this year, again, there are discussions going on about that, and you would be hopeful you could come up with a package that would allow the Cairde Maigh Eo process to continue, but in a fair manner, to people who cannot get access to inter-county games."
The income from the season ticket sales allowed an amount of certainty for the county board in what they could do in the year ahead and finding the right mix for this year is key, according to Moffatt.
“The season ticket holder is a hugely important thing across all field sports; they give an element of certainty and certain income, and you have seen other sports and what they have done with virtual tickets and all that.
"Again, you’ve got to get something that is fair, because the consumer isn’t getting the product they are paying for and there are different opportunities there, through accessing things like Mayo GAA TV and different things; and please God, when club championships come along, crowds will be able to go and we can try and bring it in there; it is an open discussion at this point, but it is about something that is fair to people."
Operations and Finance manager
Applications closed last week for the operations and finance manager that Mayo GAA is set to appoint and having someone in that role will be a huge benefit to to the organisation, the chairperson told us.
"The operations and finance manager is someone we need to assist on the day-to-day running of Mayo GAA and the strategic direction of the county.
"They have to work alongside the existing county board voluntary officers and the existing staff there - running an organisation as big as Mayo GAA with just one staff member, as we have done with Michael Cummins, along with the voluntary officials, is very taxing.
"We are hopeful that the operations manager can dig in on day-to-day issues and they will have a very mixed bag of what they have to do - but everyone is very hopeful that it will be a beneficial thing. The applications closed last Friday and I’ll take advice from the HR department in Croke Park who ran it, because they are the experts in the field and have the knowledge in the area - hopefully it will move on and bring benefit for Mayo."
As for the interview board that will select the appointee, Moffatt wasn't 100 per cent sure of the make-up of that board when we spoke.
He told us: "The honest answer is I don’t know the details of it yet, but I suspect it will include an officer of the county board, members of the HR department of Croke Park and however else they dictate it, because again, they are the ones with the expertise.
"They have appointed operations and finance managers in a number of counties, like Offaly, Galway, Armagh etc - and some counties have a full-time secretary, like Limerick, Cavan, while some like Dublin and Cork have CEOs. Again, they are very familiar with that process in the HR department in Croke Park, we are grateful for their help and we’ll take direction from them and go from there.
"At the county board meeting in November, it was outlined how it would be paid for and was reiterated also at last week's meeting - the payment of the operations manager would come from Cairde Maigh Eo and would not be a burden on clubs."
Balancing the books
Keeping the books balanced is no easy task for an organisation as big as Mayo GAA in a normal year, never mind a second Covid-19 impacted one, and the announcement last week of Portwest coming on board as a new sponsor has provided a welcome boost; but it's not an easy task, the chairperson said.
"The financial challenges combined with the covid challenges are huge - but we are very happy with the new sponsorship by Portwest. It was an open process, where the market dictated the value of the package, and we are very happy with it and are very happy with the overall package Portwest have put forward and are very grateful for that.
"When you look at having a home-grown very successful Mayo company on the front of the jersey and now a home-grown very successful Mayo company on the back of the jersey - we should be grateful and proud of that and we are grateful for the monetary support we get for that; and again, there are further opportunities.
"We are looking at, hopefully, that there will be a naming rights partner and hopefully there will be an opportunity for category sponsorships, where companies who may want to support Mayo GAA can do so, but who may not be able to compete with the big sponsorships, like Portwest or Elverys. That process will be discussed during the year and we have also outlined that Mayo GAA TV and digital transmission of our games is another process that is very important to us. All of these things do take time - and we are a volunteer organisation.
"In some people's minds, the GAA is a business, but it’s not a normal business, in terms of people working nine to five; and you have to accept that and be flexible about that and understand, these things take time. But we are very happy with Portwest and Elverys and we will continue to try and do our best as volunteers for Mayo GAA."
Giving teams the best you can
Inter-county team costs are one of the biggest outlays a county board makes during a year, and ensuring that they get the best you can give them, is something that Mayo GAA will endeavour to continue to do, Moffatt said.
"The inter-county managers are under tremendous pressure nowadays because there is that desire to compete and to win, there is that huge media interest in our games, huge online interest and all that feeds into the pressure cooker with inter-county managers; and the same feeds into players, who are under the same pressure in terms of their own performance, so you want to try and support that - recognise those pressures that they are under, by giving them the best you can.
"But gate receipts were always a huge kickback for all GAA counties and now that these have been taken away, everyone has to work together and say, right, we saw in the winter time there was huge benefit to people's mental health looking forward to games at the weekend, be it hurling or football matches; I remember one Saturday afternoon and the rain was lashing off the window and there was Tipperary and Galway leathering belts out of each other and it was brilliant; so there is a huge mental health benefit to society in those games.
"The government support at the time was brilliant and hopefully, some form of support can come in again, because when we have a product as good as we have - let's try and keep the show on the road."