Tuesday 22 October 2019

'People want to try to discredit me,' says millionaire Mayo GAA donor

Trader seeks to 'change the system' as foundation suspends funding due to governance concerns

Fundraiser: Tim O’Leary and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Mayo gala ball in New York
Fundraiser: Tim O’Leary and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Mayo gala ball in New York
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A millionaire businessman has claimed certain people are out to discredit him after his foundation withheld €250,000 in funding from Mayo GAA's county board in a row over governance.

UK-based trader Tim O'Leary hit out at "irrelevant" stories which had been circulated in GAA circles since the dispute erupted.

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The cash was pledged by the Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation, which Mr O'Leary founded and chairs, towards the creation of academy and centre of excellence facilities. However, the money was held back when business plans for the projects were not produced by the county board.

The dispute came to the fore in recent days after a letter from the foundation, which was highly critical of the county board, was circulated to clubs across the county.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr O'Leary stood over the contents of the letter, which stated funding would cease until "appropriate governance structures" are put in place. The English-born millionaire, whose mother is from Mayo, said he was "a massive sports fan" and wanted what was best for GAA in the county.

Despite the breakdown of the relationship between the foundation and the county board, he insisted he did not want to walk away.

"I am just trying to change the system that has been in place for X number of years," he said.

"Do I need my name and picture in the papers? No. But that is unfortunately the price I have to pay today," he added.

The foundation, whose membership is said to include other successful international business people with Mayo connections, began funding the county's GAA teams last year.

Mr O'Leary says he has already personally contributed €415,000 to Mayo GAA and the foundation, which organised a successful gala fundraising dinner in New York last May, attended by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The event coincided with the Mayo senior football team's Connacht Championship clash with New York.

In recent days sources within GAA circles in the county claimed Mr O'Leary had been asked to leave the team bus during the trip.

But Mr O'Leary flatly denied this happened.

The same sources also highlighted a tabloid newspaper story which detailed how Mr O'Leary dropped his trousers while cheering on England at their Euro 2012 quarter-final clash with Italy in Kiev, Ukraine, in a vain effort to put off an Italian penalty taker.

Responding to the spreading of such stories, Mr O'Leary said: "That is absolutely irrelevant to this situation.

"People want to try and discredit me. But at the end of the day I have spent a significant amount of money and I have pledged further money [to Mayo GAA].

"I want what's best for Mayo GAA. That is the most important thing. I want Mayo to win All Irelands. That would be my ambition. I want to sit there in Croke Park with my brothers, my mother who is from Mayo, my uncles, my cousins.

"This is not Tim O'Leary versus Mayo GAA.

"This is a group of people, fans, that are coming together who want to do the best for Mayo GAA."

He said he had a family, a wife and a busy international business.

"The money is actually irrelevant. The time I am spending on this is much more significant to me," he said.

His comments came as the Mayo county board said its commercial manager was in the process of developing the business plans sought and would be submitting them in due course. The board also pledged to deal with the points raised by the foundation at its next meeting in the middle of October.

Speaking on Midwest Radio, Mayo PRO Paul Cunnane said: "There are lessons to be learnt from both sides. I am sure we could hold our hands up and say we didn't do everything correctly, but I would be fairly confident to say the foundation would be able to say something similar."

Mr Cunnane said the county board was "all about good governance, due process [and] transparency" and that he hoped the matter could be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

"If we are going to bring Mayo forward and be the best we can be, we need to have everybody working together and everybody putting their shoulder to the wheel to lend their support as best they can," he said.

He said the board had been unable to address the issues raised by the foundation when it met on Wednesday night as the letter had only been received earlier that day.

He said it was "fairly impractical" for the board to be able to put together a comprehensive response within six or seven hours.

"We are all volunteers. We all have day jobs.

"It wasn't exactly a case of us trying to hide behind the truth or trying to hide behind anything," he said.

"As was stated at the meeting there will be a full response in relation to all the details in due course. The plan would be that there is a county board meeting scheduled for the middle of October and that the officers will sit down and review the contents of that statement and issue a full response in relation to the allegations that are made within that statement."

After hearing Mr Cunnane's comments, Mr O'Leary told the Irish Independent he would "reserve judgment" on the county board.

Irish Independent

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