Wednesday 23 October 2019

Millionaire withholds €250,000 from Mayo county board

Financial row: Mayo GAA backer Tim O’Leary was lauded as ‘one of the greatest Mayo supporters of all time’
Financial row: Mayo GAA backer Tim O’Leary was lauded as ‘one of the greatest Mayo supporters of all time’
Mayo fans

Colm Keys, Shane Phelan and Fionnán Sheahan

A millionaire backer has withheld €250,000 in funding from Mayo GAA’s county board in a row over governance.

The cash was pledged by a foundation set up by UK-based trader Tim O’Leary, who says he has already contributed €415,000 toward the county’s cause since last year.

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The Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation offered to provide financial support toward the creation of an academy facility and a centre of excellence. However, a row erupted after the foundation said it hadn’t been supplied with business plans for either project.

Mr O’Leary’s foundation, which includes other successful business people with Mayo connections, was behind a gala dinner in New York earlier this year which raised funds for the county’s GAA teams. It also says it spent €60,000 on a training camp for the county’s senior footballers in Rockland, New York.

But relations became strained after the New York trip, with the foundation claiming requests were made by the board for more funding without any business plans being provided.

Efforts were made to resolve the impasse during the summer, but the dispute has now bubbled over after the foundation this week circulated a letter outlining its concerns to the county board and GAA clubs in Mayo.

The highly critical letter, seen by the Irish Independent, stated the foundation had ceased funding the board "until appropriate governance structures are put in place".

A Mayo GAA spokesman declined to comment on the letter, which was circulated ahead of a meeting of the county board last night. However, it is understood senior GAA officials in the county take issue with much of its contents and plan to respond to points raised in due course.

Mr O'Leary, whose ancestors come from Lahardane, Co Mayo, was feted as "one of the greatest Mayo supporters of all time" by county board chairman Mike Connelly at the gala dinner, which coincided with the county's Connacht Championship clash with New York last May.

But the foundation's letter said there had since been a "breakdown of the relationship" between it and the county board.

It said there was "misinformation in circulation" about the matter and it was critical that it clarify its position.

The letter contains much detail on the foundation's efforts over the last 18 months and a breakdown of revenue raised and how it was spent.

It stated the foundation had ceased funding the board "until appropriate governance structures are put in place".

The group said future support was at risk and that it was holding €250,000 which it intends to give the board once funding conditions are met.

These conditions were outlined in an email to Mr Connelly last April. It set out the foundation's plans to host the gala dinner in New York, the basis on which tables at the dinner were being sold, and that the main benefactors would be the Mayo Academy, a centre of excellence at Lough Lannagh and various player welfare initiatives.

According to the letter, Mr O'Leary had discussions with officials and former players last year and promised support for the academy and centre of excellence on the basis business plans would be provided.

"Once the foundation has reviewed each plan, conducted its due diligence and the trustees are satisfied that best value has been applied to each related project, then a contribution will be made directly to the project's specific account," the April email read. The gala dinner went ahead and, according to accounts provided, some $370,000 (€338,000) was raised by table sales.

The accounts state Mr O'Leary also made a personal donation of $250,000 (€229,000) and paid a further $50,000 (€46,000) for the organisation of the event.

When costs were taken out, including donations to New York GAA, New York Mayo GAA, Rockland GAA and the Mayo-Roscommon Hospice, and $67,000 (€61,000) for a training camp, a team meal and a night out for the Mayo seniors, some $253,000 (€231,000) remained.

The letter sets out that Mr O'Leary made contributions of €415,000 to Mayo GAA and the foundation since last year. It also said an initial €150,000 was given by Mr O'Leary on the understanding appropriate receipts would be supplied.

The foundation said there was no formal reply to the April email, but "subsequent conversations along with a visit to New York by a member of the county board confirmed that the board understood the terms and that the foundation should proceed with the event".

Contacted yesterday, Mr Connelly said he hadn't had an opportunity to review the contents of the letter but would be responding at the county board meeting.

He did, however, defend the board's governance, pointing to its annual audit and representation of accounts to its convention as evidence of its high standards.

The foundation claims the "straw that ultimately broke the camel's back" was the board's "refusal" to provide 10 All-Ireland football final tickets that it says the board committed to providing for the gala dinner auction. It claims it had to pay €5,000 to the board to get tickets with a face value of €950.

However, Mr Connelly said this was "completely untrue, I can guarantee that".

He also said he was hopeful that any current differences can be set aside for the good of Mayo GAA.

Irish Independent

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