Cutbacks on cards if ticket prices fall -- Cooney
CHEAPER tickets for hurling and football games could be on the way in 2011 as the GAA consider budgetary strategy in the changed economic climate.
However, inter-county players have been told that if their grants are reduced -- or indeed abolished -- in next month's Budget, there is no question of Croke Park picking up the tab.
"That's not on the agenda. There's a clear understanding between the GAA and the GPA that if Government funding were removed, we would not replace it," said GAA president Christy Cooney.
He promised the GPA full support in their efforts to have the grants maintained but stressed that it was a matter between Government and players and not an issue where Croke Park could intervene in the event of cutbacks.
"We've made it clear all along that we're supportive of the grants and will back the GPA in their effort to try and ensure that the funding remains in place," Cooney continued.
"Like all organisations we are waiting to see what grants will be available for sport next year. We don't know what the Government will do in the current climate but I'd expect our players to be treated the same as those in other sports."
On the issue of ticket prices, Cooney said that the GAA were reviewing the situation for 2011. Reductions are a possibility, but if they are implemented it would mean cutbacks in expenditure.
"We are very conscious of the economic position for our patrons and want to give the best value possible while also ensuring that we continue to have big crowds attending our games," said Cooney.
"We're reviewing the whole ticketing system for next year and would hope to announce some decisions regarding prices soon. We haven't increased ticket prices for five years. Indeed, outside of the top-line prices, we've reduced costs all over the place through family tickets and other schemes."
Keeping costs down was one of the reasons given for implementing the ban on inter-county training in November and December, although the main objective is to guard against player burnout, especially among those who are also involved in third-level education.
There has been growing criticism of the winter ban in recent times, with county managers complaining that it seriously curtails their ability to have teams ready for the National Leagues.
However, Cooney said that the November-December ban would remain in place because the majority of players and counties backed it.
"We're not stopping players doing gym work or anything else they want to do on an individual basis. The ban on collective training in November was introduced on medical advice and for a very good reason," Cooney said.
"We wanted to give players a chance to recharge their batteries and I have to say that the vast majority of the players I've spoken to on the subject think it's a great idea."
Reacting to suggestions that some counties were openly flouting the ban, the president said that while there were rumours to that effect, there was no factual evidence.
"We can't go on rumours. Also, county boards have a responsibility in this area," he added.
"They were the ones who put this rule in place and are the ones who can best police it. It's there for the best of reasons and with the interests of players at heart so it's up to everybody to abide by it."
Cooney acknowledged that there were concerns over the training load carried by some players in third-level colleges and said that a review was being carried out in an attempt to address the matter.
A draft plan is due to be presented by the third-level colleges before Christmas and further discussions will take place in the new year with a view to having some formal proposals on the Congress agenda next April.
Cooney said that the long-awaited report on payments to managers will be issued in the next few weeks, after which it will be discussed at various levels before a decision is made on whether to implement its recommendations.
The report is being prepared by director-general Paraic Duffy and has arisen from comments expressed in his annual report earlier this year, where he said that the matter of illegal payments to managers had to be addressed.
"It's one of the major issues which have been hanging around the Association for a long time. We'll see what Paraic comes up with and then discuss it with county boards and Central Council," Cooney added.
"Whatever is eventually agreed will have to be bought into by everybody. There's no point paying lip service only to whatever is decided."
On the question of ground improvements in the new economic circumstances, Cooney said that, with one of two exceptions, no major developments were planned. The Cork County Board are working through planning issues as they seek to redevelop Pairc Ui Chaoimh but it's likely to be at least 18 months before they will be in a position to begin work.
Speaking in Kuala Lumpur, where he is on tour with the All Star footballers, Cooney said that Vodafone's continued involvement as sponsors was a matter for discussion.
Their contract expired last year but was renewed for another season. It's understood that other companies are interested in becoming involved, so it remains to be seen if Vodafone remain as sponsors of a scheme with which they have been involved for over a decade.
Cooney said that in the current economic climate it might be more logical to have one awards scheme rather than the two which currently exist. The players' body also run a team of the year scheme, sponsored by Opel.
Cooney said that the GAA hoped to announce a new five-year deal with the GPA in January, but no decision had been made as to whether there would an amalgamation of the player award schemes over the longer term.