Croke Park has eased Kildare's financial worries for now but the county will have to modify spending, says Damian Lawlor
ON the night before the Kildare footballers headed to Portugal for a training camp, the county's senior hurlers were each handed an envelope. Inside they found a voucher for Elverys Sports from the county board offering them a 20 per cent reduction on a pair of boots.
"We are entitled to two pairs of boots a year but we usually only get one," says a member of the hurling squad. "This year we didn't even get one pair, only that voucher offering us a discount if we bought in Elverys. There were not even enough vouchers for the 34 lads on the panel so the management handed over theirs. In the end some of the players didn't even take the voucher. That's how bad things are here now."
Last week, Croke Park approved an advance payment of €300,000 for the Kildare County Board which is under general financial pressure to the tune of €570,000. With creditors knocking loudly on the door and the bills stacking up, it's understood that a loan of €470,000 was initially sought, and rejected. Instead, the €300,000 sum was agreed upon to give Kildare some breathing space. It's a grant allocation originally earmarked for the 2012 and 2013 seasons but which will tide them over for the time being.
Meanwhile, as they prepare to make further cuts, it seems they have no business looking to the hurlers. "We just do our own thing," says a hurler.
"The footballers raised €3,000 each to help fund their trip to Portugal and fair play to them," says another hurler. "They are a high-profile team, they make a serious dent in the championship and they have a big following so we have no issue with what they get. We're going down to the Horse and Jockey Hotel this weekend for a night -- we'll have four training sessions and two matches against Holycross and Thurles Sarsfields and then a talk from one of the Tipp lads. That's as far as we'll get. Again we're not complaining.
"Our mileage is way down and some of the lads haven't received any mileage yet anyway but apart from the fiasco with the football boots we're just getting on with it. We have a fierce professional manager in Willie Sutherland and we've just landed the Division Three title. It's up to the board to do what they want but there's not much to cut in our quarters."
Instead, the majority of county board expenditure is centred upon the senior footballers. Indeed, there have been claims in the county that those involved in the senior set-up are calling the shots while the board, other teams and clubs make do with what's left over.
"That's absolute rubbish," counters Kildare chairman John McMahon. "I totally reject that. There is huge liaison with both the management of the senior footballers and us. Our manager is our manager -- he wants the best but at the end of the day Kieran McGeeney and the other managers of our teams realise they can't have everything they want. The same goes for the players. We have sat down with players' reps from all teams and told them that we are in a bind and they have come back to us with ideas.
"It's way too easy for people to say that the senior footballers are calling all the shots here and draining our resources but that's nonsense. In fact, it's a total untruth and grossly unfair and I want to bury this notion for once and for all. The footballers are excellent for us; they're always in the shop window and they fundraise an awful lot themselves -- as do the hurlers. We are in full co-operation with them."
There's no doubting that the footballers have fundraised and sacrificed their Government grants to avail of this latest training camp but this hasn't stopped tensions within the county. Clubs have no problems with their inter-county players raising funds for camps but they are increasingly concerned that there's not much left in the pot for them as traditional sponsors and backers are no longer able to help out when they have already donated elsewhere.
A week and a half ago, the board called a meeting at the Keadeen Hotel in Newbridge for club chairmen, secretaries and delegates. This gathering was a follow-on from December's annual convention when the board did not have the full audited accounts available. The clubs received those last week.
"That's where we learned of the official down-payment from Croke Park over the next two years," says one club official. "It certainly takes the pressure off for now and that's fine, but that money will have been budgeted for the next two years and we could well experience a shortfall at some stage down the road. We'd be worried about that."
McMahon, however, is quick to alleviate such concerns. "We will meet any shortfall," he states. "The evidence is that we are coming into what I call the 'cash time of year' for Kildare. Our club championship begins next month and income will be generated. We'll also receive our gate percentages from HQ for the league campaigns just passed and we'll have competed in two finals. Next year, our footballers will be back in the top flight with the likes of Dublin and Kerry on the menu which will boost attendances. And we're about to launch several fundraising ventures. We'd be very hopeful that we'll offset any shortfall that would arise."
This problem is not solely confined to Kildare. Over a third of all county boards ran losses last year with the largest deficit recorded in Westmeath, which came in with a loss of close to €250,000. These counties have not been helped by the fact that a single inter-county training session can now cost up to €3,500.
Kildare clubs are now interested to see how if the well-flagged Thousandaire scheme can take them out of that bracket. Here, the board, in conjunction with supporters' group Club Kildare, wants 300 backers to pledge €1,000 each in a bid to make up the €300,000.
"To me, it's throwing all the eggs into the one basket," says one club delegate. "It's also highly ambitious in this economic day and age. It has meant, too, that we've cancelled the annual Punchestown fundraiser because it would only clash with the Thousandaire scheme. On the other side it is a sign of progress, though. And team expenses are down to €600,000 this year from €750,000 last year and will probably need to decrease further.
"This kind of snuck up on everyone last November as there was no real sense of the debt until then. Any time people would question the expenditure or express fears for our financial health they were told that the senior team was close to winning an All- Ireland and we'd all move on. Now it's all hands on deck and they'll have to find a way out."
Officials in Croke Park are extremely concerned about Kildare's rate of expenditure in the last few years and will be with them at every juncture on the road back to stabilisation. One thing's for sure, they wouldn't dabble in the county's affairs if there wasn't a need. They have even parachuted in well-regarded former Munster secretary Simon Moroney as an advisor to the Kildare board.
"The board has very little to play around with so they cannot be overspending money on teams or anything else," says one senior GAA source. "Also, you can raise all the money you want but if you keep throwing it out the window on a team, or whatever, where does that leave the rest of the county?
"Many other counties are in the same boat and it's not all down to the players either -- mileage has not changed, jerseys still cost the same -- a little less even. The cost of wet gear and that might have risen slightly but the real problem is that there is a huge backroom and ancillary crew behind most teams these days and that's significantly adding to the high expenditure. If Kildare want to make repayments, everything will have to be scaled back. They don't have money to spend."
Auditor Brendan Waters has also warned that if costs are not contained and revenue doesn't flow inwards, the county will be in a bigger mess in three or four years' time. His comments at a recent meeting struck the right chord. "If the money is not coming in, the tap will have to be turned off."