Sunday 22 April 2018

Martin Breheny: GAA's finances are in even ruder health than what is presented in accounts of the Central Council

Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna, GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail and finance director Tom Ryan yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna, GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail and finance director Tom Ryan yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

What would the GAA's founding fathers have made of it?

Imagine if they were told when they gathered in Hayes' Hotel, Thurles in 1884 that the day would come when the GAA would not only own one of the most modern stadiums in Europe but that it would be kept fresh by moving tracts of land about?

In fairness, it would have sounded a most unlikely prospect even two decades ago but yesterday we learned that from next year on, re-laying of the Croke Park surface will be made possible by transporting a few inches of specially-grown grass and top soil from the Naul in north county Dublin.

It will come from the GAA's very own pitch-farm, a 50-acre site which will not only satisfy the needs of Croke Park and some other GAA grounds but also create an export business.

"We want to de-risk what we're doing," said Croke Park stadium-director Peter McKenna.

The risk was relying on others to provide a new surface for Croke Park when the need arose.

It had to be imported from abroad, which was costly and occasionally problematic.

From next year on, the trucks will roll in from the Naul, facilitating a smoother, quicker changeover in Croke Park.

"It will give us time and climate advantage on our existing supply chain. We could only contemplate this direction with in-house expertise," he said.

GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl, who completes his term next month and director-general Páraic Duffy, who retires at the end of March, sat next to McKenna as he outlined details of the pitch-farming process.

GAA finance director Tom Ryan had his say earlier, outlining how crowds, gates receipts and just about every other income stream had increased in 2017.

But, typical of his trade, he sounded a note of caution too.

"There's always room for improvement," he said.

The figures will make happy reading for the GAA membership, especially total income of more than €65 million for 2017.

Of course that doesn't tell the full story. The accounts published yesterday deal solely with Central Council-controlled events.

The gate receipts of €34m relate to the All-Ireland championships and Allianz leagues and do not include the provincial championships.

The provinces run their own affairs, issue their own accounts and disburse grants to their constituent counties.

They receive aid from Croke Park too but guard the right to run their own games programme and retain control of their financial affairs.

Still, it would be helpful if all the provincial incomes and expenditure were combined with the Central Council figures to give an overall picture.

It would, in fact, show the GAA to be in an even better position than yesterday's figures suggest.

There's no mystery here - provincial councils publish their annual accounts too - but it would make for an easier understanding of the entire scene if all the figures were published as one.

In fairness, the GAA's accounts are very detailed, extending to 124 pages, catering for Central Council and Croke Park Ltd activities, including how all the income was spent.

The figures clearly show that the Association is in a very healthy financial state, which is no mean achievement after the recessionary years.

And now they are all set to become pitch farmers.

Irish Independent

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