Saturday 25 January 2020

Stakes getting higher for counties

John Greene

The titillation in the GAA world was provided by Meath last week, but the serious stuff was happening elsewhere in Leinster. Meath was the sitcom, Kildare and Wexford were the main evening news. There was tragi-comedy in Meath, there was nothing to laugh at in Kildare or Wexford.

Okay, maybe that's a bit flighty. Meath fans weren't laughing, and certainly the current state of Meath football is no laughing matter. But, as former Meath footballers have been pointing out, it will not take a lot to turn their fortunes around. Chairman Barney Allen's quip at last Wednesday's board meeting that it could be worse, they could be looking for three hundred grand, might have been a little bit of gallows humour but still it had the ring of truth about it. For Meath's fraternity, Kavanagh's line is most apt, 'Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind. He said: I made The Iliad from such a local row.'

Once the Irish Independent broke the story that Kildare had to be bailed out to the tune of €300,000 by the GAA, it is a mystery to me how the future of Kavanagh's fellow county man, Seamus McEnaney, continued to completely dominate column inches and air-time. Some national media outlets managed to ignore the revelation altogether. The same paper also brought us the news that Wexford owe the Revenue Commissioners money. They had a tax liability which they failed to declare and which was only discovered following an audit.

Kildare argue they weren't bailed out, that the money they were given by the GAA is an advance. The fact is, they were bailed out. Dress it up any way you like but it was money urgently needed to pay creditors. Wexford say they will be in a position to reach a final settlement in the coming weeks. Whether or not it was simply an honest mistake is irrelevant.

The really worrying thing for the GAA is that there is no way that Kildare and Wexford are alone. And clubs too are exposed to the mounting debt crisis, and to the possibility of having a tax liability. Do we know the full extent of Kildare's plight? The suspicion is that we don't, especially as the €300,000 they are getting falls short of what the county board was looking for.

The figure mentioned last week as being the amount owed was around the half-million euro mark. This is obviously a lot of money but in a reasonably well-off county like Kildare, which has a vibrant supporters' club, it's not exactly the sort of figure to set alarm bells ringing. And yet they are.

Last year, a third of county boards recorded a deficit. Westmeath, for example, lost more money in 2011 than Kildare, while Mayo -- who actually showed a profit of just over €100,000 for the year -- are carrying debts of around €11m in the wake of the redevelopment of McHale Park. Armed with this information, you have to wonder what the urgency in bailing out Kildare was.

In February, Leinster Council chief executive Michael Delaney warned that spending on team administration in the GAA was bringing trouble on counties and he called on boards to start exercising greater control on their expenditure in this area.

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There is also a suspicion that Kildare themselves are in denial about the extent of their problem.

Elsewhere in this edition, there is a robust denial from board chairman John McMahon that the board's resources are being hoovered up by one team, and yet everything appears to point to exactly that. The very idea that you can pass off the massive cost of a ten-day training camp for the football squad in Portugal as not relevant to the board's financial predicament because the players fundraised to help pay for it is -- frankly -- laughable. As anyone involved in sport will willingly testify, if you knock on someone's door these days as part of a fundraising venture, you will not be welcome back for the rest of the year. So a lot of the money raised by the players is money which has now been lost to Kildare GAA. That's the truth of it.

Sometimes with Kildare I'm reminded of a gambler who has had a run of bad luck and is chasing his losses. Kieran McGeeney's squad of players are an honest and dedicated bunch (they handed over their grant money, for example). They have pushed themselves to the limit in pursuit of success but have been unlucky, partly because some key decisions have gone against them, and partly because they just may not be good enough.

But an habitual gambler never gives up and never gives in, even when his money runs out. And so Kildare roll the dice again this year, and the stakes are higher than ever before; because the money is running out.

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