Money worries identified as the single biggest issue facing all counties in survey
Financing future activities has been identified by county chairs as the single biggest challenge facing counties in the coming years.
Less than a week since the GAA reported massive losses of €34m across central, provincial and county levels, and with forecasts that the 2021 books will be largely similar, an overwhelming majority of chairpersons pointed to the future financial health of their counties as the most significant factor for them in the coming years.
Running a significant program of games when a return to play is permitted, concern for the participation and development of underage players and the well-being of members were also consistent themes amongst the 25 county chairpersons who replied to our Irish Independent survey.
However, finding the money to run their operations was way out in front as the major worry.
In the context of the year it was, counties fared relatively well in 2020. An article by Colm Keys last month highlighted that out of 31 counties (Antrim didn’t make their figures available), 15 managed to record a surplus while 16 were in deficit – a stronger performance than was originally anticipated. Those figures were boosted by the fact that five rounds of the league were played in front of crowds before lockdown, something counties won’t be able to rely on in 2021.
This year is set to be even more challenging and all but four of the respondents mentioned finances when asked what the biggest challenge facing their county following the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The biggest issue for all of us is finance,” Limerick’s John Cregan wrote. “The support from Croke Park and Government got us through last year and left us in a reasonably good position.
“If we didn’t have that subvention for the inter-county championship we’d be seriously in the red.
“This year, we are not guaranteed that. I’d still be hoping that the Government would come good and provide additional resources because it is for the national good that there is a campaign, a championship. We were fortunate our fundraising events in 2020 worked very well for us. But you are in very uncertain territory and it’s looking very gloomy from a financial point of view.”
Concerns ranged from needing money to run county teams for the coming season to worrying about their clubs’ ability to rebound financially. Others pointed to the likelihood that infrastructural projects, which form a key part of some county’s development plans, will be mothballed or worse, abandoned altogether, as money from central funds dries up.
“The obvious answer is finance,” Down chairman John Devaney said. “The challenges posed for counties and clubs last year were surmountable.
“However, 2021 brings more uncertainty and the likelihood that GAA and public provision of funding won’t be so readily available. So that means that we have to tighten our belts and ride out the storm. What lies beyond that? Will funds be harder to acquire over the next few years? If we want to invest in facilities (as we plan to do with the proposed Ballykinlar Centre), coaching, etc, how difficult will it be to access grant aid?”
Of more immediate concern to some was the issue around finding the money to prepare their county sides for the 2021 season. With the plan to run the inter-county season first still the GAA’s preferred option, counties’ ability to generate money between now and then is almost at zero.
“With little or no income it will be challenging, if almost impossible, to field inter-county teams and give the players and management the back-up required both by them and as stipulated in the players’ GPA charter,” said Laois’ Peter O’Neill.
Another concern that featured prominently centred on young players and their development. It was questioned whether the GAA might lose a generation of players due to the lack of activity.
“In lots of ways our juveniles are going to miss out on two years of development. This poses a particular problem for hurling because it’s a more skilful game and I really think you have to learn the game at a young age.
“This year is not going to be anywhere near a normal year either. I know they got games last year, but it was curtailed,” said Westmeath’s Frank Mescall.
The staging of a significant program of games and the mental health of members and players were also recurring issues with the respondents.
“I see mental health as a major problem too,” Cavan’s Kieran Callaghan wrote. “Particularly among the youth, because people are in lockdown, there is no social interaction and we, as human beings, need social interaction.
“The fear in people around clubs is unbelievable, getting people to go back out and have the confidence to go back out will be a challenge initially.”
Louth chairman and TD Peter Fitzpatrick sounded a similar note.
“The mental toll on members, the uncertainty. We can’t put a roadmap, can’t put plans together. There isn’t a day that I don’t get a phone call from a club or a player about it.
“The biggest problem is the youth because they are totally fed up. They are missing friends, that comradeship, some form of normality.
“This third lockdown has really hurt a lot of people.
“All anyone is looking for is some certainty, light at the end of the tunnel.”