OF all the criticisms directed against the GAA, the most consistent one concerns money. The general theme of the sniping is 'What does the GAA do with all that money anyway?' When a referee plays several minutes of additional time in a big championship game and then blows the whistle immediately after one team gets a levelling score there are always cries of: 'Typical GAA, chasing the big money again.'
Whenever admission prices are increased there are floods of complaints about the mercenary attributes of GAA officials.
Despite valiant efforts over the years, the GAA as an organisation has never been able to adequately answer these criticisms which strangely, we never seem to hear about soccer or rugby organisations.
But around this time every year, information is published by the GAA which explains exactly where every pound of revenue is spent. The four provincial councils publish their audited accounts as does the Central Council in Croke Park.
This year's Central Council financial report has just come to hand and when one takes time to study it in detail something 99.9% of GAA officers, players or followers will not do it does indeed answer just about every question regarding the GAA and its money.
And considering the heated controversies the GAA and its money engender, it may come as a disappointment to some people that 'openness and transparency' dominate the financial report .
Not a mention of the Caymen Islands, Ansbacher accounts or off-shore investments. No references to undeclared income for Liam Mulvihill or Sean McCague. Not even a veiled hint of work having been carried out on Danny Lynch's house by the contractors who are rebuilding Croke Park.
Despite that there are still many fascinating details contained in the financial report which show the vastly disparate areas of activity now being supported, and financed, by the GAA.
Would it surprise you to know that the GAA last year spent £180,804 on hurley and helmet subsidies? And despite that, the high cost is often given as a reason why young people do not take up hurling.
Overall, the GAA at central level earned £13.4 million last year, an increase of £2.6m, or 33%, on the previous year, caused mainly by a replayed All-Ireland football semi-final and final.
These two replays brought in £2.4m. It is interesting to note that of the total income, gate receipts only account for 67%, which shows how far the GAA has moved towards commercialism in recent times mainly through sponsorship of course.
Interesting too is the fact that the hurling championship contributed almost as much as the football to the GAA's income last year, excluding the football replays.
Right then, so the GAA took in over £13m last year, but how did they spend all that money?
Well, three items accounted for 51% of the spend: 'Match Expenses', 'Administration' and 'Games Development', each of which devoured over £2m of the GAA's income.
Match expenses is mainly made up of rent which Central Council pays to Croke Park Stadium for the use of the ground for championship games, so that is a transfer from one arm of the GAA to another.
But it also includes security and Garda costs at Croke Park which came to £338,701 and, of course, those all-important gold medals awarded to All-Ireland winners.
Administration refers basically to the cost of running the administrative arm of the GAA in Croke Park where salaries for the first time crossed the £1m mark.
Games Development saw the GAA spend £2.1m last year in promoting its own games at all levels, varying from £610,438 for hurling development projects to a mere £3,500 for the Higher Education Council which runs third-level GAA activities.
An interesting figure in this section is that of £278,653 under the heading 'International Dimension' which includes GAA activity all over the world as well as the games with Australia, one presumes. The figure for 'Youth and Coaching' is £381,157.
Going back to the 'Expenditure' heading, apart from the three major items above, we see that the GAA spent over half a million on teams' expenses and £624,140 on 'Conference and Travel' which may surprise some people.
And then there's £548,830 for the Players' Injury Scheme which rather deflates the argument that the GAA doesn't care about the players.
Yes, the GAA did make an operating profit last year, amounting to £4,260,802. but that was soon eaten up by grants to the Croke Park development of £3.1m and around a million to club and county grounds.
This left the GAA with a safe balance at the end of the year of £810,176, much the same as a year earlier.
So that folks is how the GAA makes and spends its money at national level. The four provincial councils produce the same sort of statistics for their financial operations.
The biggest gate of the year was for the All-Ireland final replay between Kerry and Galway which was £1,558,738, the value that can be put on the Padraig Joyce score which levelled the first game.
Maurice Fitzgerald's levelling point from a free in the drawn Armagh-Kerry semi-final was worth £820,942 from the replay gate receipts.
But while all those figures refer to the top end of the GAA market, down at the bottom there is a totally different scenario as indicated from attendance figures published in the financial statement.
Just look at some these figures for senior championship matches played in the year 2000: Dublin v Carlow (SHC) 1,000; Wicklow v Carlow (SFC) 1,500; Wexford v Longford (SFC): 1,200; Westmeath v Laois (SHC) 600; Wexford v Carlow (SFC) 1,000; Longford v Wicklow (SFC) 2,000; Westmeath v Dublin (SHC) 500; Galway v New York (SFC) 1,000; Clare v Tipperary (SFC) 8,212; Derry v Antrim (Ulster hurling final) 2,500, and the double-bill of Laois v Westmeath (SFC) and Laois v Dublin (SHC) 7,000.
The twelve lowest championship attendances last year barely averaged 1,000 spectators each. So much for the 'glamour of the championship' for the poor relations of football and hurling.
Most of them have operated in that same twilight zone for donkey's years, but lack the guts to make changes to end this dismal record as was shown last year when they rejected the FDC proposals to release the weaker counties from this annual charade.
As in all reports, you should always read the small print. And in the GAA's financial report the smallest print is used to list how 49,075 stand tickets for last year's All-Ireland finals were allocated.
It is a long list based largely on tradition and history, with 33,000 or so tickets going directly to the County Boards. Some of the more unusual allocations include 36 to Psychiatric Hospitals, 101 to public representatives and 98 to Bord Fáilte. Last year, the competing counties in each final between them got around 22,000 tickets.
Now, if only the GAA could manage to get all the information contained in their financial statement to the Irish sporting public, just imagine how much criticism they would spare themselves in a year?