Morgan adds fuel to Armagh sponsor row
ARMAGH County Board has outlined how "complications" with existing arrangements led to a recent change in inter-county sponsors, ending a 17-year association with Morgan Fuels.
The board were responding to a damning statement from Morgan Fuels proprietor Hughie Morgan, who accused them of a lack of respect, complacency towards his sponsorship and a failure to use revenue properly to develop the game in the county.
He expressed annoyance that he was informed of the change in sponsorship by board officers last week, shortly after the death of his brother-in-law.
This correspondence was made, he claimed, with "no thought for my personal circumstances."
Morgan has been sponsoring the Armagh team since 1997, having sponsored the county football leagues for two years before that. He estimates that he has contributed well in excess of €1m to Armagh GAA in that time.
He says he has become increasingly disillusioned with progress in Armagh football and "suspended" his sponsorship halfway through 2012 when his request that a strategy be devised for Armagh football was, by his account, "ignored."
Morgan also signed up for a deal to pay for the branding rights to the revamped Athletic Grounds for five years, but this arrangement has also ceased on foot of their falling out.
Rainbow Communications have taken over as sponsors and a new jersey was unveiled last Thursday.
The board say they were "disappointed with Mr Morgan's response to our new sponsorship arrangements since at all times we endeavour to conduct our affairs with discretion and integrity.
"While our partnership with Morgan Fuels has been prosperous and mutually respectful for many years, recently some complications have arisen regarding the sponsorship of Armagh."
A statement from the board thanked Morgan Fuels, but added that "while we always welcome advice on how to manage our coaching and games, we will continue to ensure that this part of our operation will at all times be under the strategic control of our county board."
Morgan was indelibly linked to the successful Armagh teams built under Joe Kernan from 2002 onwards and was very much considered a member of the 'inner circle' at that time.
Perhaps more so than any other inter-county sponsor in recent times, his relationship was more personal than commercial with the team. He was so 'hands on,' that there were times after big championship matches when he could be seen helping to carry out equipment from the dressing room.
In his statement, Morgan didn't hide how deeply immersed in Armagh he has been. "I've been a passionate Armagh supporter all my life. Indeed, my friends and family have often commented that orange blood flows through my veins, such has been my commitment, personally and financially, to the county.
"Since 1995 Morgan Fuels has contributed a very significant sum to the support and development of Armagh football and hurling, a sum that is well in excess of seven figures.
"Over the past 17 years we have had the immense privilege of knowing and working with some of the finest players, managers and board members that any county could wish for," he added.
Morgan claims, however, that Armagh have not harnessed the impact of that success.
"In very recent times, we have witnessed a serious decline in the atmosphere prevailing at county level matches, reflected in poor results and the souring of key relationships. As the principal sponsor of the county teams and of the Athletic Grounds, we have been in a very difficult position.
"Not only have we increasingly found ourselves at odds with the county board over their failure to provide the branding and corporate hospitality benefits that were to be provided as part of our sponsorship agreements, but, even more importantly, over their failure to take decisive and strategic action to stem the decline of Armagh football.
"Earlier this year, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that, not only were the county board complacent about Morgan Fuels' continued financial support, but they were failing to use the money to invest in the development of the teams.
"I sought to bring pressure on the board by asking them to bring forward a strategy that would equip Armagh football to go forward with confidence and to strive for the success they had achieved previously.
"I made it clear that unless such a strategy was developed, the financial support of Morgan Fuels could not be guaranteed. I am sorry to say that my request was ignored and, consequently, I had no option but to suspend our financial support. This impasse has continued for the last six months and led to the complete breakdown of our relationship."
Armagh have, however, established a new academy which will be overseen by former midfielder Paul McGrane.
Wishing the new sponsors well, Morgan expressed sadness that his association was at an end.
"I have always enjoyed my association with Armagh and have been proud to play a small part in the county's development and success over these last 17 years. I am very sad that our association has had to end and cannot help but reflect on the way in which my family, my company and myself, have been treated at a very difficult time. The GAA seeks to promote an ethos of "give respect, get respect. I will leave the Armagh County Board to ponder their interpretation of this."