Sport GAA

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Cormac Byrne: 'Fears over Páirc Uí Chaoimh funding come to fruition and the GAA will be counting the cost for years'

The GAA has taken over the running of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The GAA has taken over the running of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cormac Byrne

The scale of the overspend surrounding Páirc Uí Chaoimh will have shocked many this morning but this project and its financial viability have been in question from the word go.

Initial projections of €70m rose to €86m 12 months ago and have now spiralled close €110m causing the GAA to step in and take over the reins.

Peter McKenna's prediction is that it could take 10-15 years for this situation to be brought under control. That's 2033, potentially.

Former Cork county board chairman Ger Lane predicted 12 months ago that they were "hopefully within two years of having the whole thing cleared".

That's how much the situation has regressed in a year.

Let's break down the funding structure.

Taxpayer funding came to €30m, Croke Park added €20m,  the Cork County Board had savings of €10m and Munster Council provided an additional €3.75m and that comes to around €63.75m. That leaves a shortfall of almost €50m.

Cork GAA plan to sell a 20-acre area of land at Kilbarry, that was rezoned from light industrial to development in 2017, and that is expected to take in between €15-20m. It still leaves €30m outstanding.

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So that's where we are, but how did we get here? And where do we go from here?

Doubts over how this was all going to paid for were revealed in the Irish Independent in 2015 after the Department of Public Expenditure's central expenditure evaluation unit (CEEU) had examined the redevelopment. Taxpayer funded projects over €20m have to be subject to cost-benefit analysis.

PUC.jpg

Under a Freedom of Information Act request, we learned that a CEEU official queried how match and event attendance estimates in the cost-benefit analysis drawn up by Cork GAA had been calculated, warning that it could be 'overly optimistic'.

The official said a claim in the report that 50pc of workers on the project will have been previously unemployed appeared to be "an optimistic assumption".

We have yet to hear what the added money has actually gone into and what we know for certain is that further investment will have to be made.

The playing surface is not fit for purpose, McKenna admits that, and remedial work is needed to maintain it before it's changed completely.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh needs big fixtures and 2018 Championships showed us that hurling has overtaken football in terms of drawing in big attendances.

Choosing the Cork venue over Thurles and Croke Park for big hurling games will cause controversy because of the absence of Hawk-Eye. The spectre of All-Ireland semi-finals or Munster finals being mired in controversy over disputed scores will be unpalatable to most hurling fans.

No figure on how much Hawk-Eye cost to be installed in Croke Park has been disclosed but McKenna previously described it as a "serious six figure sum" and the running costs are significant.

Croke Park's break-even attendance for GAA matches is reportedly 35,000 on the basis of everybody paying €20 for their ticket.

For Páirc Uí Chaoimh to churn out profits, they will need large attendances.

There were raised eyebrows this year when Clare and Wexford's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final was brought there.

Had the game been close, the fact that Hawk-Eye wasn't there could have caused a scandal.

The fact that just 10,250 bodes came through turnstiles is a cause for major concern also. Accusations that stewards had been heavy-handed with Clare supporters who tried to take to the field to congratulate the Banner men didn't make for good headlines either.

If the GAA are to bridge the €30m funding deficit (provided the Kilbarry property makes €15-20m) over the next 10-15 years then you are looking at average profits of €2m per annum required.

Securing naming rights will be crucial, holding big concerts will be important but could run into local opposition. McKenna told the Irish Examiner that the "vision is we need to make the stadium the signature place in Cork - for conferences. exams, weddings, everything".

That may include opening up the ground to Munster rugby and Cork City. The success of the Liam Miller charity game highlighted potential in this area.

The fact that the Aviva Stadium has become something of a graveyard for Munster in recent years could act as motivation to go to war in the Páirc.

Like the costs, this story continues to spiral and the feeling is that it may be a while until it comes to a rest.

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