Friday 17 November 2017

GAA steps in to guide 20 clubs out of financial peril

GAA Director of Finance Tom Ryan
GAA Director of Finance Tom Ryan
Tom Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile

Damian Lawlor

GAA finance director Tom Ryan says that up to 20 hard-pressed clubs who were fighting for survival are now out of the woods. "The financial year we have had is sound, it's healthy," Ryan says. "But it's nothing spectacular either.

"There have been threats to the health of our Association and I would say none more so than threats to our clubs. It's at ground level where the pressure of the economic recession has been felt most."

Ryan says that between 15 and 20 clubs were in financial peril but following discussions with banks, those clubs are now in a better place. "We feel there is an increasing responsibility on us at Croke Park to help them try and meet the pressures of costs that have mounted.

"We handed out €12m to counties in 2014 and, while it's commendable, it doesn't go anywhere near meeting their demands, even though we have increased the sums given to them over the past three to four years. Even if we topped it by another million next year, it would still be a drop in the ocean."

"A lot of the issues that arose, we found, were due more to property reasons than expanding underlying running costs spiralling out of control.

"By and large, clubs are well-run and people at the helm don't spend what they don't have. But those clubs that we helped were caught. For instance, the 20 or so we helped had bought a new pitch, or grounds, simply to drive their club forward. Then as the recession kicked in they came unstuck in selling their old premises.

"Suddenly they were left with two pieces of property, two mortgages, and they couldn't sustain that. But none of the cases were down to a club's move for financial gain. Every case was genuine - clubs trying to better themselves for the generations coming up and there is a responsibility on us to help those clubs in practical way."

Ryan added that he was confident that while there were daily struggles for units all over the land, the obvious financial hazards were now well flagged.

"Thankfully, no club has folded and while there have been amalgamations, in many cases that has been more of a playing issue. In other words, they have been forced to merge due to playing or demographic factors rather than for financial reasons. But no club has gone out of business or had a premises repossessed."

County boards, meanwhile, are also dragging themselves out of trouble. They are obliged to budget every year and can only avail of central funding once they have demonstrated their financial health.

Overall, the GAA's income increased to €56.2m in 2014. Ryan admits that while the GAA filters most of its revenue back to counties and clubs, it can be hard to see any benefits coming from the top.

"I will admit that myself," he says. "I am treasurer of my own club and it's sometimes hard to see what comes back.

"We are giving most of the money back but it's dispersed in such a fashion that it's hard to see. Perhaps we are better focusing on specific projects and giving more funding to them.

"From the €10 that you spend on a league match ticket, €2 goes to the meet the cost of running the match, another €2 goes to the competing teams, a further €2 goes to the kids and next generations, €1 is donated to the operating costs of the Association and the remainder of that is capital.

"Maybe to ease this perception of nothing coming back to clubs we need to make a bigger impact, bigger distribution for a small number of projects - the likes of training centres and that. We try to give every club a little, but there are over 2,500 clubs and each might only receive €1,500 directly. The other money is harder to see."

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