Saturday 25 May 2019

Eugene McGee: GAA must take control of money madness

In recent years, many GAA officials tended to glory in the fact that, for the first time, they were the top spending sports organisation in the country and wasn't it time to put manners on the soccer and rugby crowds anyway.

These people regarded the brilliant success of the new Croke Park as an indicator that, when it came to big-time financing, the GAA was your only man. But, unfortunately, how things have now changed.

In practically every corner of the country, county boards are complaining about running up annual debts -- up to half a million euro in some places.

When the balance sheet was strong, county boards were never slow to highlight their effectiveness, in contrast to when things were going bad. However, the bottom line is -- like most other sectors of the economy -- that all GAA units are now strapped for cash.

Bad and all as the present situation is, it could have been a lot worse, because in the dying days of the Celtic Tiger several famous county grounds were scheduled to get involved in deals with local developers, who proposed to build completely new stadiums on the outskirts of urban areas.

These included both the Cusack Parks of Ennis and Mullingar, Austin Stack Park in Tralee, as well as St Conleth's Park in Newbridge.

How the GAA at national level must be thanking their lucky stars that these projects fell through -- otherwise, they could be facing at least ¿50m in bank loans.

Sadly, not all were so lucky and there are still some developments which fell through and they are now getting stuck with massive loans, which they are unlikely to be able to repay.

In many cases, GAA units simply lost the run of themselves and were prepared to borrow recklessly, often to develop grounds that were far too elaborate for what was required.

There are several GAA grounds with capacities from 30,000 to 60,000 that will probably never have the 'house full' signs out ever again.

This was purely bad planning, and also ignored the fact that social habits in modern day Ireland often see sporting trends change.

Young people today have become followers of a number of sports, happy to pay into GAA and rugby games, in particular, as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago when most people only followed one particular sport all their lives.

Of course, the money spent on county teams is what catches the eye of GAA people most of all, and again it is very much a movable feast.

Any monies paid to managers never seems to appear in any accounts, which is peculiar. Why aren't county boards forced by the GAA hierarchy to publish all these figures?

This year the Meath treasurer has released figures for the cost of Seamus McEnaney's management package to date -- which is over ¿80,000, but such information is the exception. Why can't every county board follow that example and do likewise?

Fully aware of several examples of poor financial control systems leading to major debts for county boards, Croke Park officers forced in a new financial regime for several counties, which seems to be working well.

The GAA should never be short of money -- if they use their financial resources correctly. But as recent times have shown, some GAA bodies haven't a clue about handling serious money. They will learn fairly fast from now on!

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