Monday 18 December 2017

What a shower of wasters

Eamonn Sweeney

The Galway County Board could lose €2.5m after abandoning plans to build an €8m training centre near Athenry. Kildare clubs are unhappy about being asked to help raise money to cover county board debt, which may be as high as €500,000, as it may impact on their own fundraising efforts.

Tipperary club Moyne-Templetuohy hope to bring a motion to Congress asking the GAA to cease spending on big development projects at county level and use the money saved to help struggling clubs instead.

Munster Council chairman Seán Walsh appeals to counties to be "prudent" when spending money on county teams. Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly says the GAA won't bail out county boards who land themselves in debt. Players training with their counties in contravention of the Association's ban on closed season training complain that their county boards won't provide them with meals afterwards. It's reported that county training sessions are costing up to €3,500 a time. Waterford County Board reveal they're €210,000 in the red and it's suggested players might help the situation by refusing to swap jerseys with opponents after games.

There seems to be a theme emerging in the affairs of the GAA. And the atmosphere is spookily similar to that which preceded the collapse of the whole Celtic Tiger house of cards. It's pretty clear that things are going wrong but there remains a reluctance to face up to reality. There's a feeling that a soft landing might somehow be contrived and that things won't be as bad as all that if everyone just stays positive. Now where have we heard that before?

Martin Skelly struck the right note last week when he pointed out that "the income from gate receipts, sponsorship and fundraising that has been generated in the past, in the Celtic Tiger, is no longer there. Counties have to get a grip, they have to face up to that fact."

But will they? The signs aren't great. You have, for instance, complaints by players who've been engaging in illegal training sessions that they're being 'exploited' because county boards aren't picking up the tab for feeding and watering them after these practices. County board arguments that they can't fund these sessions conveniently ignore the fact that they're the ones who should be preventing them from taking place in the first instance.

The Gaelic Players' Association have weighed in with the observation that "everyone agrees that players need a proper rest period but that shouldn't be a cost-cutting measure," as if trying to keep the cost of preparing inter-county teams under some sort of control is an underhand act.

A tremendous amount of cribbing goes on in the GAA these days. Two of the pet peeves are (a) that the closed season should go. And (b) that player burnout should be prevented. There's no way around the fact that these two ideas are mutually exclusive. The closed season was instituted to give players a rest, yet no sooner had this happened than we were told it was absolutely vital for inter-county managers to train their teams during the winter. Burnout isn't that much of a concern at all, it seems.

Every summer, as some gang of perennial underachievers make an inglorious early exit from the championship, their manager tells us that these lads have put in 120 or 130 sessions. The question which always springs to my mind is, why?

The unfortunate truth is that many of the counties breaking the collective training ban could have started training five times a week back in August and still wouldn't win anything next year. That's just the way things are. We're supposed to praise teams for the effort they make but, in the words of Vanity Fair critic James Wolcott, "respecting effort is what you do when something hasn't succeeded."

The idea got about during the Tiger era that you couldn't spend too much on preparing a county team. Whatever was asked for should be provided. So you end up with training sessions costing three and a half grand. Three and a half grand for 30-odd players. Who's feeding them? Patrick Guilbaud?

There was a reluctance to point out that certain county boards were going daft with the chequebook. This reluctance came about because nobody wanted to be seen standing in the way of 'Progress' and 'Innovation' and 'Excellence'. County boards spending money on county teams were like the man who sends his kids to private school even though they could get just as good an education in his local state school. It's the 'never be let it said I wouldn't spend the money' attitude.

So while Waterford, who've raised the possibility that they won't be able to feed players after training by the end of January, are coming to terms with having run up a deficit of over €200,000 in the past two years, county secretary Timmy

O'Keeffe insists in his report that "if we are to remain competitive at inter-county level, particularly in hurling, we must continue to prepare our teams to the highest standards. We need to identify new streams of income."

What these new streams of income are he doesn't spell out. Apparently, there's no truth in the rumour that Waterford hurlers are to be handed balaclavas and a map of local financial institutions when they get back to training.

Meanwhile, a county not so far from Waterford, who wear black and amber and go in for a more low-key approach and are reasonably 'competitive at inter-county level,' have declared a budget surplus of €200,000 for the past year. Success isn't all about spending money, you know.

The poster boys for Tiger era lunacy are Galway, who have abandoned their plans for the training centre on land for which they paid €2.8m at the height of the boom. If they are lucky enough to offload the 102 acres involved, current property values mean they may take a €2m hit. There is also half a million euro of interest payments to be considered.

Hurling board chairman Joe Byrne said last week that "the vision and foresight when purchasing this property was endorsed by the board, but circumstances and the economic situation has changed since then." That €2.8m is €2.8m that won't be spent at grassroots level in Galway.

And the Moyne-Templetuohy motion, which was pooh-poohed by Seán Walsh last week, is a reflection of anxiety in clubs who feel that they'll end up suffering from financial extravagance further up the ladder.

In Kildare, Peter Whyte, chairman of the great Moorefield club, has commented: "Every club is struggling to make ends meet. That is countrywide. My problem is that people have to realise we go to the same people every time. Now the same people we go to, the club people, are going to be asked to go again, and alleviate this debt. It is wrong to do that, to put the onus back on the clubs."

Kildare clubs are already paying a €3,000 levy towards the creation of a centre of excellence.

Some county boards have lost the run of themselves. The result is that the county teams which should be the Association's crowning glory are plunging the GAA into a crisis which will end up adversely affecting the game at grassroots level. Counties should realise they don't need to build centres of excellence, because they already have them.

They're called clubs and it's time for them to shout stop.

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