Friday 28 November 2014

Eugene McGee: Recession putting GAAa's wastage into sharp focus

Published 14/02/2011 | 05:00

Money, particularly the lack of it, is dominating Irish life like never before, now that the country has deteriorated to a shocking degree. Emigration by young people is rampant and we have not yet reached the lowest point in our misery by any means.

A huge national organisation like the GAA is bound to be seriously affected by this downturn and all over the country there are signs of this.

Already county boards have drastically reduced their expenditure on preparing county teams and one can only wonder at the extent of the wastage that applied in recent years when we see some counties reducing their team expenses by over €100,000.

The GAA was absolutely awash with money in recent times and there is no doubt a lot of it was poorly spent. This applied particularly to over-elaborate facilities such as stadiums, clubhouses and equipment.

Investing in all these things probably seemed a good idea at the time because many facilities were little short of barbaric less then 20 years ago, with showerless dressing-rooms; pathetic toilet facilities -- particularly for females -- at many county grounds; lack of covered stands, and inadequate scoreboards -- or none at all -- at venues, among other things.

Many GAA clubs and counties may have been slow learners when it came to rectifying these inadequacies but, with the rising tide of economic activity, this changed rapidly and it then became a status symbol for a club or a county to have better facilities than their neighbours.

thoughtless

At national level over the past quarter of a century, the thoughtless nature of expanding large stadiums should have been the first warning sign for the GAA. Initially, planning for such stadiums was willy-nilly, with each county board doing its own thing and the bodies who were part-financing these developments -- provincial councils and Central Council -- seeming to have little function apart from writing out the cheques for grants.

That was why we arrived at a stage where we had too many stadiums catering for very large crowds that are hardly ever filled to capacity and where the facilities for spectators, and often players too, were already behind the times.

The dressing-rooms in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, for example, were about a quarter of the size of what modern dressing-rooms should be. Large expensive stadiums -- like Killarney and Portlaoise, costing millions -- have been grossly under-utilised and have hardly ever been full for games.

Clubs, too, undertook gigantic fund-raising events to provide elaborate buildings and numerous other facilities -- even creches -- with not a lot of thought put into their long-term usage.

Invariably, the various GAA units got a lot of these things wrong through lack of proper planning -- although it has to be said that the vast majority were outstanding successes, copper-fastened the position of the local GAA club in their communities and left them the envy of other sports.

Yet despite all that spending on facilities nationwide, there were some major gaps left in several areas.

The Ulster Council, for example, have played some Ulster finals in Croke Park in the last decade because of the inadequate capacity at Clones or Casement Park.

But Ulster have now taken steps to rectify that by redeveloping Casement Park and every county in the province also has a county ground of the highest quality now.

Dublin County Board has never managed to provide a small stadium worthy of the capital city, capable of holding at least 25,000. And Waterford GAA has yet to come up with a stadium to match the other Munster counties to such an extent that there was talk -- but only talk -- of playing big Munster hurling games involving Waterford in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. What heresy!

Louth has yet to provide a worthy county ground to cater for home championship games of significance and it was only last week that Armagh eventually launched their excellent new stadium in Armagh city.

What this sort of haphazard development around Ireland shows is that strategic long-term planning, 20 to 40 years in advance, has not been the GAA's strong point. Big grounds went to strong counties who had clout in raising finance rather than the actual needs of the GAA nationally.

For instance, we have four grounds in Munster capable of holding 40,000-plus crowds but are they all really necessary or properly utilised? At the same time we have no such stadium in all of Leinster bar Croke Park itself. The Leinster Council is now addressing this situation, probably by expanding Portlaoise so that it can stage Leinster hurling finals.

State of the art floodlighting is the newest fad in the GAA -- an excellent idea of course but only if its usage is maximised. There are some lights in place which are only used a dozen times a year.

What plans has the GAA or its various county boards to maximise the use of these expensive lights, costing between half a million and a million euro, apart from a few league games? Does every county board really need floodlighting?

'Centres of Excellence' -- training grounds in effect -- are also all the rage and some counties have spent millions on these ventures. Hopefully they will be well used.

In recent years, the GAA, at Croke Park level, has moved in to take a hands-on role in major developments around Ireland. The availability of the millions garnered from rugby and soccer games in Croke Park has allowed them to have a say in allocating this money through grants.

Better planning will now take place and tighter budgeting will keep a rein on county boards -- and about time too, as a few counties barely stayed afloat in recent years and some others are still on the verge.

The GAA has a lot to learn about using money -- based on past events -- but the dire economic situation now, and in the coming years, will surely teach many a GAA unit a very hard lesson -- which will do no harm.

Irish Independent

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