Cost of running county teams at record levels
Price of inter-county preparation reached a high of €21.87m in 2015 after loosening of purse strings in the last three years.
Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30
One evening last summer the Kildare footballers played a challenge match in the southern half of the country before travelling on to a modest hostel in Waterford where they stayed overnight.
The idea was to 'make a weekend' of it. Preservation of costs shaped the plan. Team management cooked the breakfast the following morning. Everything was cheap and cheerful. The bill came to no more than a few hundred euro.
Yet, even with such a frugal (and novel) approach, the hole that Kildare were able to punch in their expenditure for all inter-county teams in 2015, as presented to their annual convention, was small, a saving of €7,962 on the €630,139 spent in 2014.
Kildare's flagship senior football team stayed 'alive' in the championship for the same duration as the previous year, the August Bank Holiday weekend. But any further compression of the bills was a challenge too far.
The official cost for the inter-county activity of all 32 counties, across both codes and all grades from minor upwards came to €21.87m last year, up 6.77 per cent on 2014 figures, and the highest ever in our estimation.
The real bill, what payments are made discreetly and by third parties to cover specific functions and excursions, drives that figure considerably higher. One guess is as good as the next when trying to reach consensus on that pile.
GAA county boards deliver much transparency when it comes to financial matters. In the case of team expenditure, it is listed and itemised uniformly in annual conventions under a number of standard headings from travel, catering, medical and physio, gym and equipment and in some cases team administration.
The Irish Independent has carried out analysis of inter-county team expenditure in the past and found that 2007 was the first year when the €20m barrier was crossed.
It remained above that mark for three consecutive years but the onset of recession forced significant belt-tightening.
In 2010, counties spent €19.29m preparing inter-county teams but within a year that had dropped to €18.37m.
In 2012, it dipped further to around €17.4m as the warnings about reining in the expenditure grew more audible but there was a significant gear change since then and the latest figure represents a jump of 20.5 per cent in just three years and 15.27 per cent on the 2013 figure of €18.53m.
The increased spending was touched upon in January by Connacht Council secretary John Prenty who observed how counties in his province had spent between four and five times what the gate receipts in the province were and warned that 90 per cent of counties were facing financial ruin if the trend continued.
By our figures, Connacht counties splashed out 10 per cent more.
With the percentage hikes since 2012 his words should strike a chord.
The official cost, as per convention figures, is one thing but how high does the 'real spend' reach after that. The Irish Independent is aware of one county where the expenditure for one of its senior teams alone is being projected at over €850,000 if their season lasts as long as they hope.
Thirteen of the 32 counties managed to bring down their team expenses in 2015 but most of those decreases were modest with the exception of Clare and Donegal who managed six-figure reductions.
Mayo's senior footballers' season was identical in profile to 2014 but they took down the bill by about €35,000. Did that impact on the players' move against management in September?
Donegal reached an All-Ireland final the previous year with at least four training camps undertaken but in 2015 their season was six weeks shorter and the costs reflected that.
The average training session can put a €2,500 hole in any county's pocket. Some estimates can come in at upwards of €4,000 per night when a full ensemble is present.
Some county managers are good at generating finance themselves. In his four years in charge, Jim McGuinness had a significant number of overseas backers to lean on, for instance.
Dublin again spent the most but despite a season that went on three longer than 2014, they managed to bring down their bills by €12,500 to €1.57m. In 2011, when they had three teams (senior football, minor and U-21 hurling) in All-Ireland finals the cost was closer to €1.8m. But their revenue streams generally flow faster than any of the other counties.
Westmeath, Limerick and Galway recorded some of the biggest increases. The success of the Westmeath footballers in beating their rivals Meath for the first time ever and reaching the Leinster football final contributed to a spike of some €200,000.
Limerick treasurer Donal Morrissey told his convention that the financial reality was that if counties want success, they have to spend, a case of breaking eggs to make an omelette.
"The preparation of inter-county teams requires spend and I just can't see that being achieved by taking money off it," he cautioned.
Naturally, Munster were highest proportionate spenders because of the strong dual status with progressive football and hurling in most counties. Of the five counties that crossed the €1m mark, three were Munster-based while Kerry were just a couple of thousand euro off.
Cork regularly come in as the second highest spenders behind Dublin, last year spending €1.44m, or 45.2pc of the Board's €3.18m outlay. Neither of the Rebels' flagship senior teams was operating beyond the end of July, while minor and U-21 teams made scant progress too.
Commercial income (€633,836) and National League share (€250,116), which are directly related to inter-county activity, came to a total of €884,000.
Backroom teams continue to steadily grow in tandem with a desire for a broader base of expertise.
It was believed to have been a point of discussion when Mickey Harte was negotiating to continue as Tyrone football manager that he and Gavin Devlin had 13 in support. But 13 is a relatively small figure.
During McGuinness' time with Donegal there were 17 core members of the backroom team.
When they won the All-Ireland title in 2013 Dublin's coaching and support was officially listed at 20, including the team's commercial manager, but the figure was probably higher than that.
Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald has long had a reputation for overseeing some of the professional set-ups in hurling at both college and inter-county level.
This year the appointment of three coaches, former Cork goalkeeper Dónal óg Cusack and Aengus O'Brien and the returning Paul Kinnerk, has swelled their extended backroom team to 30 when board secretary Pat Fitzgerald, who is liaison officer, and a public relations adviser are included.
Inter-county activity is the financial driver of the GAA but with the endless quest for perfection the bills are soaring again.