Money generated by inter-county game close to covering team costs
Every winter there's a familiar refrain from the podium at county GAA conventions around the country when a treasurer stands up to give his annual financial overview. Put simply, they're running to stand still to keep up with the cost of servicing inter-county teams.
From Donegal to Roscommon and Limerick and further afield the message has been the same about the need to curtail the spend on the preparation of inter-county teams, last calculated by the Irish Independent at just over €25m. From just under €18.5m in 2011, a €6.8m leap makes it a 36.7pc rise in six years.
"A train has left and it's coming down the tracks unless we do something about it," Dermot 'Weeshie' Lynch, Kerry treasurer for 10 years now, has warned.
"There is no county board sitting down at the moment trying to control their costs. They are throwing everything at their inter-county teams. There is no let-up on the spend hoping to balance it on the other side and there is a place called 'stop' there because there is only so much you can bring in."
Lynch believes the size of squads and even back-room teams has grown too big across the board.
"The size of our panels are too much. If the size of panels are brought down it would sort out some of the club problems, clubs would have players released to them and bring down costs all round."
Lynch knows that the days of Páidí Ó Sé closing the curtains at home in Ard a Bhóthair to put his three video recorders to work after receipt of video tapes off the train from Dublin to Tralee - a delivery he often oversaw himself - are gone. But he questions the huge analysis element of preparations now.
"At national level an infrastructure committee in Croke Park is going around every county ground putting in broadband and extra spaces, not for the media but to be able to cater for statisticians," he claimed.
"In one way we're saying this is becoming such an important factor in our game that we are going to have to develop this in stadia around the country. On one hand saying, 'make room for them', on the other hand turning a blind eye to what the costs are. Talking out of both sides of our mouth," he said.
"What's being raised is being spent, counties have gone away and started developing centres of excellence and are bringing way more debt on themselves which needs to be serviced. If you are on a wage of 600 quid a week and you have a mortgage and everything tied over and you have one kid and you can manage but if you come along and have more kids?" said Lynch.
"If it's going to go out of control at inter-county level, what chance have the clubs of maintaining control? I don't know how it is going to be stopped. You can look at every word but the one that keeps coming out at you is professionalism and everything we're doing is professional.
"Croke Park wants us to carry ourselves well as inter-county teams, they want us to act professional at all times, they want us in interviews afterwards to be courteous, they want them to be articulate, it's all professional, professional, professional. There's Sky, there's eir Sport but the one thing they're saying is that we're still a voluntary organisation."
And yet for all the fears over spiralling spending habits, revenue generation around those same county teams increases.
There is an argument, based on the figures provided here, that county teams are largely responsible for generating as much, and more in many cases, as is spent on them.
Most commercial revenue is related to county teams. In some cases, local championship sponsorship is not completely a product of a county team but main sponsors and the various gear, nutrition, transport and catering deals struck are directly related.
Fundraising figures in most counties aren't all attributable to county teams either. But inevitably the funding of the development of a centre of excellence is designed to help the best players with a view to improving county teams, first and foremost.
Kerry, for instance, have fundraised significantly to build their €7m centre of excellence in Currans, amassing up to €5.5m so far chiefly through the exhaustive overseas efforts of their previous chairman Patrick O'Sullivan. It is a state-of-the-art facility, complete with a 50-seater auditorium. And while some clubs and college teams will get use of the facility from time to time, the focus will be chiefly on servicing county teams and development squads.
Money from inter-county competitions distributed from central and provincial resources is illustrated in one of our graphs.
Every county gets a payment of around €175,000 from media and sponsorship rights. After that, two separate payments are recorded in the GAA's annual report to Congress that cover travel and accommodation in league and championship, and a dividend from progress and attendances in the league.
Essentially, the longer you stay in either competition and the further you travel, these payments are designed to reflect that. With a further pay-out, albeit a lot smaller, from the provincial councils for involvement in the four competitions, a picture can be built as to how the inter-county game is funded. The more successful you are, the more it will cost but the more you are likely to receive.
Dublin's figures, gathered from their convention booklet and the Leinster and GAA convention and Congress booklets, show that from competition dividends, expenses, commercial revenue and fundraising they, officially, took in almost €2.2m, just under €600,000 more than what it cost to run all their inter-county activity.
Mayo spent €1.54m but took in €2.17m under the headings we have identified as team-related.
Wexford's €945,000 spend on their teams was an eye-catching figure last December, up by €250,000 the previous year but the money generated around the team was also higher, by our estimation just over €1m.
It's another argument as to whether so much money should be diverted the way of inter-county teams and development squads at the expense of clubs and coaching vehicles. But they are prime generators.