GAA warn the cost of funding inter-county senior teams is ‘not sustainable’

Tom Ryan says spending cap may be needed after 2019 senior team spending of €29.74m

Monaghan’s Niall Kearns is challenged by Dublin’s John Small during last weekend’s Allianz League Division One clash in Croke Park. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Monaghan’s Niall Kearns is challenged by Dublin’s John Small during last weekend’s Allianz League Division One clash in Croke Park. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

GAA Director General Tom Ryan has warned of the “increasingly pressured” financial landscape within the Association, the rising cost in preparing and fielding senior inter-county teams in particular “a trend that simply cannot continue”.

In his second annual report since taking over as Director General in 2018, Ryan points out that while the GAA’s collective revenue continues to grow - the financial report showing total 2019 turnover of €118 million, up 11 per cent on the previous year - the rising cost in preparing seniors teams - which amounted to €29.74 million in 2019 - is neither sustainable or desirable, and may need to be addressed through new rules and spending caps.

“My principle financial misgivings are not revenue related, however,” says Ryan. “The combined cost of preparing and fielding senior inter-county teams for the 32 counties came to €29.74 million in 2019. This was an increase of 11.6 per cent over the previous year, a trend that simply cannot continue.

“Counties have largely managed to grow their incomes this year to keep pace with increasing costs. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of counties returned surpluses this year. But that is not the point. This is not sustainable in the long-term.

“This outlay represents a huge proportion of our collective resources. So, the other unseen cost is of all the other GAA plans in a county that are foregone or neglected - coaching, club support, facilities and so on. The origins of these costs are many. The scale of professional expertise engaged with teams is ever increasing, and the size of panels similarly. There is a responsibility at national level too with the extent of the inter-county season.

“The solution may well be with rules and spending caps . . .The solution has to start with a collective recognition that we take collective responsibility and start to reverse the trend.”

Financial matters feature prominently throughout the report, and as the former director of GAA finance, Ryan is well-versed in these matters. The redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh is singled out as an example of why “future projects must be controlled centrally with appropriate oversight.”

Originally estimated to cost €78.5m, an ultimate cost of €96m is reliably projected, with bank borrowings currently standing at €21.5m, with debt also owed to Croke Park of €10m.

“We must engage professional project management expertise,” Ryan says of future stadium development projects. “Central Council funding must also be issued proportionally with progress rather than up front. Projects can only be permitted to start when all the funding is in place, and not does proceed contingent upon future income”.

Those thoughts also spilled over into the continued planning issue of the Casement Park redevelopment in Belfast: “Planning approval is not the only hurdle however. The NI Executive’s Budget approval dates from 2010/2011. The commitment was to deliver the strategic requirements of the three sports (rugby, soccer and GAA) at a total budget of €110m at that time. Almost a decade later the stadia for rugby and soccer have long since been built, and the cost of providing the originally planned GAA stadium have doubtless increased significantly. So, we will need to secure additional public funding to ensure delivery of the Casement Park stadium.”

GAA Director General Tom Ryan. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
GAA Director General Tom Ryan. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

The Carlow native also addresses the issues of fixtures, governance and also looks to future aspects of the Association, including the relationship with the camogie and ladies football associations. Ryan also points to a motion coming to 2020 Congress, which takes place in Croke Park on February 28th/29th, as a means of addressing governance.

“There is a proposal that will significantly bolster our rules in this regard, allowing for national intervention in matters in a unit in certain circumstances. A further proposal provides for the appointment of independent persons to County Committees and Provincial Councils.”

The acquisition of Clonliffe College directly adjacent to Croke Park, some 31.8 acres in all, will allow for the building of two new full-sized 4G GAA pitches, with 1.1 acres also set aside for the building of a new 200-bed hotel; around half the site will be sold on for housing developments, 10 per cent to affordable housing, and 10 per cent for social housing.

On fixtures, Ryan is confident the Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force can address the two-fold goal: “to arrive at an inter-county structure for its own sake, of course, but also deliver an increased number of weekends dedicated solely.”

The improved relationship with the camogie and ladies football, says Ryan, has been steady, but adds: “Rather than pre-occupying ourselves with hierarchies and territories we have consciously decided to focus on making alignment an everyday reality through the everyday things that affect members the most.... At this stage I think we all agree that our eventual goal is not amalgamation or takeover. Instead is it likely our ultimate shape will be something of a partnership, and a combination of equals.”

Congress is also set to unveil a new cup name for winners of the Tier-2 Football championship, which comes into play this summer.

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