Monday 25 September 2017

Lilies see light at end of financial tunnel

DAMIAN LAWLOR

KILDARE GAA officials are confident that they will attract a new sponsor in the coming weeks and are adamant they will play four high-profile league games at St Conleth's Park next season.

Despite facing the prospect of their financial independence being threatened -- and the suggestion that they would have to switch their 2013 home league campaign to a neutral venue -- the Lilywhites' executive are optimistic about next season.

After being forced to move a home qualifier with Limerick to Portlaoise because of capacity issues -- the Newbridge venue can only hold 8,000 people -- doubt was also cast on the ground's potential to host box-office clashes with Donegal, Kerry, Dublin and Tyrone next spring.

But speaking to the Sunday Independent, commercial director Marty McEvoy alleviated those concerns and said they are planning to hold all home league fixtures at the Newbridge venue. "We will play four games at home in St Conleth's Park, that is definite, even if it means those games will be all ticket," he confirmed. "We have massive support and we have to look after them. It will be a considerable financial boost to us too."

McEvoy says the board's immediate priority, however, is to have a new backer in place by Christmas following Tegral's move to step down following 20 years of unbroken support.

"We have had a very tough year, we know that better than anyone," he acknowledged.

"It has led to plenty of media coverage, and we've had a run of headlines, but we've also worked extremely hard to improve our finances and we're fighting back. We've cut expenditure and the bottom line is we now need to raise more funds. That's an area we need to improve in -- and something that we have to help our supporters' club with but we're committed. The first target is to have a new sponsor in place.

"People know the situation that many county boards are in but Kildare GAA has a massive profile and a lot going for us -- we've been All-Ireland quarter-finalists in each of the last five years and now we're back in Division 1 next season with the other big boys."

Undeterred by having their financial affairs plastered across the national media, and the constant wave of publicity the Seánie Johnston transfer saga attracted, McEvoy has started the process of unearthing a new backer and will hold a second series of meetings with three interested parties this week. There is a public assumption that Kerry Group, who recently announced up to 900 jobs for Naas over the coming years, should step into the role of sponsors but market sources said that the consumer foods company might not want to dilute its existing deal with the Kerry footballers.

"The market is difficult at the moment but I wouldn't be too worried," the commercial director added. "We are an attractive proposition -- we're one of only two counties with shop selling activity -- the WhiteWater Shopping Centre in Newbridge has a footfall of over 100,000 people per week and we sold over 4,000 replica jerseys in 2012 as well as in excess of 10,000 leisure wear garments with the sponsor's name. We have a lot to offer."

The board is currently preparing its accounts for December's annual convention with a running deficit that has risen to over €700,000.

But former Munster Council secretary Simon Moroney has been working with the county since April as part of the deal for a €300,000 cash advance required to buy them time and they have made severe budgetary cuts since then.

In addition, over €190,000 is projected to be generated by the end of this year, which will help improve their situation.

This year's expenditure on county teams was reduced from €750,000 to €525,000, with just €270,109 of that spent on the senior footballers, which diminishes the theory that their preparations were chiefly responsible for compounding their financial woes.

"There was just no truth to the thinking that all the money was going on the senior footballers, that was a myth," McEvoy insisted.

"The truth is we simply stopped raising sufficient funds -- it wasn't that we were spending a whole pile more. But we have to accept what has happened and work harder to help the supporters' club. The perception is that Kildare is a very wealthy county with the horse racing industry and other figures residing here but we have had to examine every possible way of raising funds."

McEvoy rejected the suggestion that they had over-stretched in building the centre of excellence at Hawkfield which cost around €3.5m.

"Absolutely not -- that facility is used every single night," he said. "If it's not the senior footballers it's the hurlers and there are three to four development squads and ladies football and camogie teams that use it too. It has been one of the great investments in Kildare GAA and will continue to be. It was money well spent."

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