Over the past few weeks and right up to the middle of January 2009 county boards and clubs will be holding their AGMs and releasing their accounts for the club delegates and club members to study. Some of the figures that are in the public domain already make for scary bed-time reading for those charged with raising the revenue to keep the wheels greased and turning. For example - the Waterford hurling board spent nearly €2 million in preparing their teams in 2008. The Galway hurlers cost over €1 million to keep on the road last season and they didn’t even reach the last four. How much would it have cost if they had got to the final?
That kind of loot takes a lot of collecting and such expenditure is difficult to maintain on an on going basis. And while the bigger and more successful counties may have the ability to attract or maintain sponsorships more than others, the overall spend at county board level is a real concern for most GAA organisers, and especially those who are charged with keeping the association on an even keel at national level.
GAA president Nicky Brennan is adamant that the booming expenditure on inter-county preparations must be tackled immediately and he has advised that those dealing with county budgets should consult with players to streamline outgoings for 2009 and beyond. Brennan, who along with a number of other GAA top brass, is in San Francisco this week for the All-Star-tour –another example of questionable value for money, perhaps – insisted that uncertainty exists over future allocations from Croke Park and that counties cannot continue to spend colossal sums on their county sides and specifically in relation to the forensic and increasingly expensive preparation aimed at delivering All-Ireland success. Brennan pointed out that “county boards are seeing the cost of their inter-county teams rising at a steady pace. And this is just not sustainable in the future”
The Kilkenny man advocates an inclusive process between the county board and the players they represent, which would require a monumental shift in mindset in some counties – “Counties are going to have to sit down with their players and decide on how best the money that is available can be spent. Counties cannot continue to increase their spending at the level that they have been doing and there’s certainly going to be a lesser pool of funds available from central level to counties. All of us in the GAA have to be careful over the next couple of years to ensure that we don’t create debts that will be difficult to handle.”
The fact that the mileage rate for county players is going up from 50 cent to 60 cent per mile in 2009 will not make things easier for county boards as travel for players to and from training, physio, team meetings and games is a significant expense and a 20 per-cent increase will be felt on the bottom line. The Galway senior hurling squad produced a travel bill of €247,000 in 2008 and with a 20 per-cent increase for 2009, that bill will rocket by another €49,400 at the bare minimum next season. And assuming that John McIntyre brings them a game or two further then a Ger Loughnane did this year, it is difficult to envisage where the travel bill would stop. Could it hit half a million?
Paradoxically much of the expenditure by some of the counties that engage in annual spending sprees is made because they are following a pipe-dream with little prospect of major success. In the case of many counties, irrespective of how much money they pump into their current county side they are limited by the stock of players to hand. It would make a lot more sense in the long-run to divert some of the major expenditure that is in the main spent on the county senior side and re-invest it in coaching at an under-age level. To prove my point, Carlow spent over €1 million on their various teams in 2008, an increase of almost 75 per cent on the previous year. What value for money did that represent?
Will the Government pull the plug on the player grants in 2009?
A possible bone of contention for the GAA and the GPA with the Government next year is the possibility that Minister for Sport Martin Cullen will renege on the inter-county players grants in 2009. That grant will be paid out later this month for the first time to over 1,800 senior inter-county players and will be in the region of €1,400 to €2,500 per county panellist, paid via the Irish Sports Council to the GAA.
The Sports Council has already been informed of an eight per cent reduction in funding for 2009 and there is some speculation that the GAA players grant could be one of the funding mechanisms that could get the chop. The scheme costs the exchequer around €3.5 million and is seen as an easy target by some to rein in some costs. It remains to be seen if Cullen, who is no stranger to controversy, will be prepared to pull the plug on the funding or would his GAA-friendly Taoiseach stop such a decision being made. Dessie Farrell, chairperson of the GPA has already been quite vocal as regards the players stance if such a decision were taken, especially as the deal was to run for a three-year scheme.