Impact of 2016 GAA/GPA agreement evident in latest rise
When the Roscommon football manager Kevin McStay sat down with local media prior to Christmas to discuss his plans for 2018, finance was very much on his mind.
A budget for the season had been signed off on by an interim finance committee that had strong Croke Park oversight because of their involvement in a rescue mission to stem a €550,000 creditors bill the county had run up. As a consequence, McStay admitted everything was being "watched".
At the convention the treasurer Seamus Maher mentioned that it was costing a "frightening" €15,000 per week to service the senior football team.
Yet McStay was adamant that no more corners could be cut if they wanted to keep pace with the game's protagonists.
"That's where some of the counties are. They are living from week to week, month to month, trying to (survive). I just don't see where we personally can cut any more corners."
McStay admitted there was embarrassment and stress when professional people he had asked to join his backroom team to provide a service weren't being paid on time.
He had asked them so it was to him that they reverted. The cost of running their inter-county teams came down by €214,000 from 2016 figures but still there was a squeeze.
"You'd certainly much prefer to be dealing with it but it's a reality. And I'd say most county managers have that reality. It's not nice."
The new Limerick GAA treasurer might agree with some of that sentiment but on the issue of cuts Liam Burke had already made his move prior to taking over in the role from Donal Morrissey.
Limerick's team costs jumped by €258,000 in 2017 despite similar exits for their flagship hurling and football teams. The U-21 hurlers claimed an All-Ireland title in September but that alone could never account for such a sharp rise.
Burke described the rising costs to the 'Irish Examiner' to prepare teams in general as a "race to the bottom" adding that "there doesn't appear to be any way to stop it at the moment."
Any analysis of the costs throughout this decade would support that view. In 2011, €18,477,000 was spent on preparing teams. Within six years that has jumped €6.8m, an increase of 36.7 per cent.
Not a county treasurer in the country will be surprised by this. In Leinster every one of the 12 counties recorded an increase, some very significant, which led to a 17.52 per cent overall increase.
Five of the six Munster counties also generated bigger bills while seven Ulster counties also rose.
Only in Connacht was there a decrease with Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Leitrim all taking their costs down on the back of stern warnings in his report to 2017 convention by provincial secretary John Prenty when he asked the question "are we mad?"
Yet it can be strongly argued that the €1,946,207 rise from 2016 won't directly cost counties. Last week's publication of Central Council finances revealed that Croke Park paid out €979,180 for additional mileage above the 50-cent-per-mile rate that counties must account for with €873,239 set aside for nutrition.
These figures are in accordance with the 2016 GAA/GPA agreement and, combined (€1.85m), are almost directly proportionate to the year-on-year increase.
The small print in that 2016 agreement between the GAA and the players' body also allowed for significant increases in the gear allowance each player was entitled to. For the first time pre-season squads were also entitled to gear items as distinct from league squads and later championship squads.
It allows for two pairs of training socks, two pairs of training shorts, two pairs of gym shorts, three training T-shirts, one training wet-suit top and bottoms for each player.
Counties were budgeting for a rise of €750,000 on this suite of changes alone but not everyone operated strictly to what was in the agreement.
Of course counties, and especially some managers, will point to a team's success being a generator for more commercial and fundraising revenue.
Wexford recorded a sharp rise in team costs but also delivered huge increases in commercial revenue and local gate receipts around the hurling team's soaring profile under Davy Fitzgerald.
County Board income rose €447,135 from €2,578,981 in 2016 to €3,026,116, including an additional €150,000 in commercial and fundraising activities. There was also an additional €75,000 from an extended league run.
Wexford's plan to appoint a dedicated commercial manager reflects their thinking on the direction they want to take.
Every county receives a base payment of €175,000 from revenue generated from media and sponsorship rights.
In Dublin's case, they were the second highest spenders in 2017 with €1.6m but they are more than able to pay their way with €1.64m taken in on commercial deals with AIG and 12 other official partners, in addition to that €175,000 payment.
They also benefited from a €462,000 payment from the National League share, courtesy of the crowds they attracted, taking team-related income well over the €2m mark.
Contrast that to McStay's sentiments and a clear picture emerges.
Seven counties spent more than €1m each with strong dual counties like Cork, Tipperary, Dublin and Galway featuring highly.
Ulster counties were pinched by a weaker sterling and the four counties where figures were available all recorded increases.
Most counties can attribute 40-60 per cent of their incomes to inter-county team expenditure.
The €25.2 million figure for 2017 may well be a peak with most counties set for a shorter championship campaign and the season ending two/three weeks earlier from 2018 onwards.
But, as that 2016 GAA/GPA deal kicked in, the bill for preparing teams crashed through the €25m barrier.
In the desperate rush to keep pace, it will be hard to pull it back from that.
Here is how much each county spent in 2017:
1. Cork - €1,747,609
2. Dublin - €1,604,353
3. Mayo - €1,542,547
4. Galway - €1,295,639
5. Limerick - €1,148,631
6. Tipperary - €1,070,353
7. Kerry - €1,030,443
8. Donegal - €952,697
9. Wexford - €945,224
10. Waterford - €872,607
11. Roscommon - €866,333
12. Kildare - €756,093
13. Armagh (2016 figure) - €755,736
14. Westmeath - €750,517
15. Clare - €710,175
16. Laois - €698,644
17. Offaly - €694,147
18. Meath - €658,487
19. Tyrone - €645,928
20. Monaghan - €640,728
21. Kilkenny - €633,148
22. Cavan - €617,161
23. Carlow - €576,992
24. Down - €562,044
25. Derry - €558,057
26. Sligo - €546,000
27. Fermanagh - €461,045
28. Longford - €444,834
29. Louth - €421,686
30. Antrim (2016 figure) - €421,114
31. Wicklow - €367,972
32. Leitrim - €298,629
I recall it for two reasons. First, there was the frantic dash from Birr to Tullamore in the driving rain and howling winds, then there was the sight of an 18-year-old Leaving Cert student from St Kieran's, Kilkenny making his senior inter-county debut in conditions more conducive to mud-wrestling than hurling.
Kerry's David Clifford limped off after 18 minutes of Kerry's impressive victory over Mayo at the weekend as he featured in his third game in six days and Tomás Ó Sé expects the teen sensation to be rested this weekend.
Last year, after his side had ruthlessly dismantled Mayo in a Croke Park league match, Dublin football manager Jim Gavin delivered a stinging rebuke of the schedules that placed such demands on third-level college players with county profiles.