When the former Mayo GAA treasurer Kevin O'Toole addressed an in-camera meeting in the midst of the board's stand-off with the International Supporters Foundation at the back end of last year, he outlined many of the financial practices and requirements that the board faced on a day-to-day basis. Chief among them was how to service the inter-county teams, particularly the flagship senior team that has operated at such a high level through the decade but also needs considerable financial support.
hat meeting was held prior to the county's convention in December when accounts revealed how Mayo were back among the highest spenders on team preparation and costs, coming in at €1,714,722, slightly below All-Ireland hurling champions Tipperary.
In laying it out to delegates, O'Toole highlighted the cost anomaly between a training session in Mayo and one which is moved down the midlands to Athlone for the convenience of the 12 or so travelling from Dublin.
The difference, O'Toole pointed out, could end up being in excess of €2,500 for one night's training to cover the travel costs of the 44 coming from Mayo, including squad members and backroom staff. One switch of a venue and that was the knock-on effect, he estimated.
Mayo racked up a staggering €927,444 in travel expenses for their inter-county teams in 2019, up from €596,069 the previous year. From that, €696,890 was accounted for by the senior football team whose overall preparations came in at €1,240,699.
They were league champions, All-Ireland semi-finalists and played in three different jurisdictions in the 2019 championship including their trip to New York. But the costs were eye-catching nonetheless.
O'Toole took delegates through a regular match weekend and all the associated catering costs involved on a weekend away, from snacks to pre-match meals to main meals, recalling a time when the only consumption was one post-match meal.
The issue of rising team costs has been very prevalent, not just this winter past, but throughout a decade when it has risen steadily.
Only this week the director-general Tom Ryan shone a new light on it in his annual report, providing an overall figure collated by the finance department in Croke Park.
From €19,206,553 in 2010, it dipped at the height of the recession in 2011 to €18,477,680 as belts were tightened and largely remained within €1m of that until the middle part of the decade when it began to climb steadily again.
In 2019, the overall spend stands just short of €30m by our count. That includes the cost of funding team holidays in Kerry, Limerick and Galway (2018) which don't show on the team expenditure balance sheet but are considered team costs nonetheless, amounting to €812,347.
From 2010, it's a jump of 56 per cent (60 per cent on the 2011 figure) and the calls have been loud and clear from concerned officials.
It's not so long ago that the passing of the €20m barrier triggered a succession of alarm bells about team spending. Now a new landmark is in sight. How long before the average spend is €1m per county? Next year, if the graph climbs at its current rate.
In 2019, there were seven counties in excess of €1m - Cork, Tipperary, Dublin, Galway and Limerick operating at Liam MacCarthy Cup hurling level in addition to supporting their football teams.
Two of the top football teams, Kerry and Mayo, are also keeping that company with Mayo jumping by €520,112.
Kerry also spiked significantly, especially when their €300k holiday contribution is included, taking them up by over €650,000.
In all, 26 counties recorded rises in team spending in 2019. Of those that didn't, Galway dropped by around €200,000 but both flagship teams were out of the championship by early July.
In that respect, it was a modest decrease but, as treasurer Mike Burke explained in his report to convention, most of these expenses are front-loaded. Irrespective of progress, costs tend to plateau as the season progresses.
Donegal, Kildare, Monaghan and Leitrim all dipped, with Leitrim's 2018 figure swelled by their trip to New York and Monaghan failing to replicate their All-Ireland semi-final form from 2018. Clare's decrease was modest.
The Connacht GAA chief executive John Prenty has been most vocal about this but reserved his most strident warning for his most recent report when he described it as a "runaway train", words used by the then Kerry treasurer and now Munster GAA treasurer Dermot Lynch two years ago.
Prenty produced figures to illustrate how, in a decade, overall spending, not just on teams, among the five counties in Connacht was up 100 per cent with team spend accounting for 60 per cent in most cases.
"The copycat tactics of the county committees are driving the Association into the realm of elitism, commercialism and investment in the few over the general good of the Association," Prenty wrote.
"The demands of inter-county team managers and players are increasing exponentially to the point that they must train more, have more professional staff involved and, consequently, we must spend more."
Connacht's current chairman, Gerry McGowan, also chipped in on the same theme in his address.
"Act now before this out-of-control machine crashes," he warned, adding how the estimated €30m spend "can't continue".
McGovern went further by putting forward a couple of suggestions that he felt would curb it, calling for a capped budget for each county team to be agreed between county board officers and the national financial management committee with only provision for percentage incremental increases that were success-related.
Secondly, a projected budget to be agreed at the start of the year, and after the county teams' exit from all competitions, a transparent and itemised report of how the budget was spent should be forwarded to the county executive, provincial council and national financial management committee.
But how would that legislate for a county like Mayo that spends almost €1m in travel by comparison to Dublin most of whose players are within a 25-mile radius - albeit a congested one - of their training centres?
Effectively, the GAA could be telling some counties at a geographical disadvantage that they can't train collectively as often as they would like because of the cap.
After the last GAA/GPA framework agreement was reached in 2016, there was a rise of 15 cent in the mileage rate for those associated with teams, jumping from 50 cent to 65 cent where local agreement wasn't reached.
The GAA at central level has picked up the tab for that extra 15 cent, reimbursing counties rather than paying it directly, in addition to a €20-per-week nutrition allowance that the GPA have been pushing for a considerable increase in as part of the current negotiations.
That nutrition allowance reflects the growing culture of high performance among inter-county GAA teams. And high performance costs money.
The Mayo International Supporters Foundation were questioning the rise in Mayo's catering costs over the last number of years and seeking explanations but if they were to analyse catering costs across the board they'd see a similar percentage rise in most counties as more and more teams focus on the quality of the fuel that drives their efforts.
Mayo's catering went from €307,821 in 2018 to €390,877 in 2019 and while that may be linked to their extended championship run, the desire to consume better with each passing year is reflected too, just as it was in Tipperary where catering rose by €95,000.
Strength and conditioning needs have become bespoke too; individually-tailored programmes and one-to-one attention often require care and attention at different venues from those in charge and that requires much more time, numbers and consequently cost.
Many analysis teams are three- to four-strong while GPS packs monitoring load are now a standard issue at inter-county level.
Ryan too floated the idea of a cap, or at the very least a budget that must be related to performance. As teams' preparation costs accelerate, the GAA's biggest revenue-raisers linked to the inter-county game have not followed at the same rate.
Centrally collected gate receipts (leagues and non-provincial championship games) have climbed more modestly, just under €25m in 2011 to €29.6m in 2018, though a big increase on the back of an All-Ireland football final replay and increased ticket prices was announced during the week, adding €6.5m in 2019 to €36m is more in line with the rate of team expenditure costs. Commercial revenues (media rights and sponsorship) have gone from just over €15m in 2011 to €19.6m in 2018 and €19.9m in 2019 but again that rise is not consistent with the spend and puts the pressure back on the counties to bridge the gap.
Thus, the pressure to find new revenue streams has increased on those counties.
The question is, what is the threshold for what is spent and the gap between the various contributions that Croke Park and provincial councils make, deriving from their funds.
Almost every county gets a standard €185,000 from Croke Park for media rights and sponsorship, while league gate money and championship expenses, incorporating overnights, travel and length of championship season, is all factored into that.
One of the most interesting figures is what percentage of nett (minus contras, deprecation and amortisation) overall expenditure counties are actually spending on inter-county team preparations and costs.
The majority are operating between 40 per cent and 60 per cent, though, in Donegal's case, €949,270 is 68 per cent of their €1,393,052 expenditure. Next are Westmeath, their €860,213 being 63 per cent of their €1,367,570 spend.
Others well over the 50 per cent mark are Sligo (59 per cent, €572,471 ex €970,256) and Tipperary (56.5 per cent, €1,776,975 ex €3,141,728).
At the other end of the scale, Dublin have the lowest; their €1,370,807 on teams comes in at 32 per cent of €4,271,407 expenditure as the greatest portion of their spend is on coaching and games development. With more than €2m in commercial revenue flowing in each year, on top of over €500k in season ticket money accounted for elsewhere, their financial muscle grows.
Kildare's €738,639 is relatively modest by comparison to their €2,179,046 expenditure at 34 per cent.
The figures presented here are what are audited. No doubt they climb higher than this in any given year when 'off-the-books' payments and sponsors who write cheques directly are factored in.
Inter-county games remain the GAA's chief revenue generator with gates and commercial streams driving the whole organisation.
But the product is becoming more expensive to service in many counties as these figures, incorporating all inter-county teams and development squads from 31 of the 32 counties - Antrim were unavailable so an average of the lowest two counties in Ulster was taken - show.
Success doesn't frame everything. But those that don't frequently enjoy it are sure to question its justification. Reversing anything is always difficult.
PART THREE TOMORROW
Why counties are in rude financial health despite €100million debt - Colm O'Rourke, Joe Brolly and John Greene