Wednesday 19 June 2019

Colm O'Rourke: There is no more room for vanity projects in the GAA

Most spending has been sensible but there is always room for clever ideas, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

M ost of the time the inbuilt layers of conservatism have served the GAA well. While many people lost the run of themselves a few years ago and ran the ship aground, the GAA spent wisely and well.

Yet there are times when unwillingness to change makes for decisions which are plain daft. We got an example of this last week when, despite Mayo being happy with Dublin's request to play their league match next Friday, the CCCC vetoed the idea.

The spurious grounds are player welfare. Now quite what that means is anyone's guess. In this case player welfare would mean playing the match on Friday. It would amaze me if the Mayo players were not delighted with the prospect of playing in Dublin on a Friday and having the weekend in the city, especially with the big rugby match against England on Saturday. In general, players prefer a Friday night or Saturday game, especially when there is a lot of travelling involved.

I have long advocated playing league games on different nights of the week and the rule here should be to stay away from interfering with Dublin as they have become the leaders in promoting their home fixtures. Someone should also tell whoever made this decision that a great number of people will not be working on Friday anyway as a lot of schools and businesses are taking Friday off to make a long weekend with St Patrick's Day on Thursday. So, therefore, it makes perfect sense to have that match on Friday night when Dublin feel they would have 10,000 more spectators than on Sunday. Hopefully a shaft of light will emerge and the request will be granted even at this late stage.

This is just another example of a lack of innovation involved in fixture making. There were plenty of opportunities in this league to try out Thursday or Friday night games when neighbouring counties were involved. It has been happening in the secondary competitions in all provinces recently and in the under 21 championship. Where were the player welfare issues there?

Last year, Meath and Dublin played a midweek O'Byrne Cup tie in Navan and there was a big crowd and smashing atmosphere.

A casual look at the GAA accounts last week reveals substantial reductions in revenue. This is mainly due to the loss of the big international soccer and rugby games to the new Aviva Stadium. What this means for a lot of clubs and counties is that the days of getting big grants for ground development have gone for good. (Presumably, counties who opposed the opening of Croke Park did not take any of this tarnished money on principle! Others had no qualms and invested wisely.)

The dire warnings about opening up Croke Park have been shown up for what they were: scaremongering. Just a pity that the Aviva ever opened -- there is no need for two stadiums in a city of Dublin's size, especially as the Aviva is not big enough for games like the forthcoming Ireland v England rugby game.

In terms of GAA property being used by other sports, it would make perfect sense as well to allow local organisations make their own decisions. As it stands, a lot of clubs with good facilities are in breach of rule by hiring gyms and all-weather pitches to soccer and rugby clubs. Another silly rule which limits clubs' ability to keep themselves afloat. Just as well that most totally ignore it but it would be better if no such rule existed.

One thing counties and clubs must do now with the reduced money is cut back on some of the vanity projects. Smaller and more cost-effective projects for county training facilities and county grounds are essential. Any proposal for a stadium to hold more than 10,000 should get the chop.

Yet even in straitened times over €11m went back to counties to fund projects -- that still builds a lot of dressingrooms and helps to improve pitches. To put that in context, it probably does more development now than twice the money did three or four years ago. So those brave enough to take on projects at the moment are getting good value for money and helping to create a bit of local employment as well. On top of this money going back to counties, another €14m was spent on capital projects, so all in all there is a lot of

legal tender going into bricks, mortar and grass of a natural and artificial type.

The usual chorus of disapproval with financial figures is that enough is not being spent on games development. Well, a figure of over €11m is not an inconsiderable sum and it is yielding results too with new types of games that are more user-friendly. Of course this whole area is a black hole and you could throw in twice that amount without knowing whether it was doing exactly what it says on the tin. The only possible measurement is numbers participating but that is not an entirely accurate guide as numbers can be increased by purely voluntary workers.

Another figure which normally arouses comment is the figure for administration which is listed at €8.14m. It seems high and of course this is purely those involved at central level. County and provincial bodies are separate. Making any snide comment on this figure though is only reducing things to pub level without knowing exactly how the money is spent.

One thing for sure is that the GAA have very able administrators and in an organisation of this scale and financial magnitude there is a need for specialists who don't come cheap. Presumably, though, they all took a pay cut last year in line with the public sector and most private businesses.

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