Tuesday 28 January 2020

Dick Clerkin: 'For sake of transparency, we need to know exact amounts spent on teams'

 

Kilkenny players race past the Liam MacCarthy Cup ahead of this year’s All-Ireland SHC final. In 2017, it was reported that the county’s total inter-county team spend, on almost exclusively one code, was €620,000. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Kilkenny players race past the Liam MacCarthy Cup ahead of this year’s All-Ireland SHC final. In 2017, it was reported that the county’s total inter-county team spend, on almost exclusively one code, was €620,000. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

As county convention season draws to a close, board executives have never held so much of the limelight as they have done in recent weeks. Undoubtedly, the current unravelling of FAI accounts has whetted the public's appetite for boardroom finance scandals, wherever they can be found.

The GAA hasn't disappointed. Galway's financial showdown with sponsor Supermac's provided a beefy appetiser. Mayo's public airing of their dirty linen served as a stomach-churning main course. Revelations around the extent of Cork's financial woes is now a pricey desert.

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I wrote last week about how it is unlikely that the GAA would ever find itself in a similar mess to the FAI's current predicament. Painful as it is to watch, at least our financial fumblings are being aired in open forums that will focus those responsible to address them.

Contentious

I'd sooner see countless contentious county conventions than an Oireachtas committee invite or a threat of administration. Governance standards and appropriate resources are the GAA's problems, not insolvency.

From Roscommon's €1.2 million budget surplus all the way to Cork's €2.14 million board deficit and everything in between, such figures have made for great headlines of late.

Obviously these numbers matter, but in isolation they often mean little. Context and comparison is of equal importance to the eye-catching figures. Working these days as an Operations Consultant, I spend my days analysing performance indicators and financial metrics of various companies. Trying to establish root causes and corrective measures for problems, I live and breathe on the reliability and accuracy of data.

So in the midst of all these financial wranglings, when I read Joe Brolly in his Sunday Independent column saying that Kilkenny claimed to have spent little over €200,000 on their All-Ireland-reaching senior team last year, my ears immediately pricked.

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"Has to be a mistake," I said to myself. Last week Kerry treasurer Tom Keane reported that just under €750,000 was spent on the Kerry senior team this year. In 2017, it was reported that Kilkenny's total inter-county team spend, on almost exclusively one code, was €620,000. And this was in a year that the senior team didn't even make it past the quarter-final stage. Something doesn't quite add up with Joe's figures that we were told were provided from an official source.

Why does it matter what Kilkenny report if their house is in order, you might say? It matters a great deal. At present, a glaring light is being shone on the spiralling costs of inter-county teams, and the lengths to which fundraising bodies are stretched to meet these demands. Rightly so.

Roscommon's healthy €1.2 million surplus this year made the national evening news headlines. Their Club Rossies 'Win A House In Dublin' initiative was responsible for €943,400 of that total, with more than 14,000 €100 tickets sold for that draw. A phenomenal achievement, yet a wholly unsustainable means of generating regular income.

So when figures like Kilkenny's €200,000 senior team spend are cast into public forums, it is understandable that questions will be raised in other counties. Why are their own costs so high in comparison and require extraordinary levels of fundraising, such as what Roscommon embarked on?

In their recent year-end report, Monaghan GAA disclosed that they spent just under €650,000 on all county team expenses. Sources have informed me that the senior team accounted for approximately €400,000 of this amount, and yet Monaghan were out of the championship by the end of June.

If Kilkenny can genuinely prepare an All-Ireland final calibre team for a meagre €200,000, what in God's name are Monaghan, and everyone else for that matter, spending their money on?

Kerry last year spent €206,000 on medical expenses alone, yet official Kilkenny sources are leading us to believe that they only spend in or around this amount on everything?

And herein lies the problem when it comes to throwing around headline numbers for effect.

Meaningless

Unless they are being stated on a like-for-like basis, they are largely meaningless, and only serve to muddy the waters when it comes to trying to get a grip on where all the money being generated is being spent. And whether it represents good value or not.

Unquestionably, there needs to be forensic analysis carried out to establish the true costs of financing the flagship senior teams in each county. Very often boards simply provide an aggregate figure for all team expenses, leaving it impossible to compare and contrast which counties are the most cost effective.

Nobody is calling Kilkenny's financial prudence into question, and there is no reason to suggest that they don't run a tight ship. However, in the present climate it is perfectly reasonable to question what costs they are in fact apportioning to their flagship team.

If we are ever going to get proper governance standards in place, clear transparency on spending is an obvious first step.

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