Mayo GAA expected to contest statement from fund-raising body
Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation are withholding funds it had raised
The Mayo county is repaying a sizeable debt incurred by redevelopment work in MacHale Park. Photograph: Inpho
The Mayo county board are preparing a comprehensive response to the “serious allegations and accusations” made by the Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation, the county’s unofficial fund-raising body which organised last May’s black-tie dinner event in New York and now claims to be withholding €250,000 of funds it had raised in a row over governance.
The potentially very damaging impasse, as reported by The Irish Times earlier this month, took another turn for the worse ahead of last night’s Mayo county meeting, after the Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation circulated a statement to all clubs outlining their concerns over certain finances and explaining the breakdown in relationships with the county board.
Ahead of last night’s county board meeting, they requested the statement be read out by Mayo county secretary Dermot Butler: the Foundation claimed it had ceased funding the board “until appropriate governance structures are put in place” and also claimed there was “misinformation in circulation in relation to the breakdown of the relationship between the foundation and the county board”.
However the Mayo county board are expected to contest the statement ahead of their next meeting, given the lack of time to present a detailed response last night. Mayo County Board spokesperson Paul Cunnane said: “There were a lot of serious allegations and accusations made. We will issue a comprehensive response at our next meeting in the middle of October.”
The Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation was established by international financier Tim O’Leary, who was born in England and is second-generation Mayo, about a year ago and with the county board’s approval.
Dated on Monday, their statement reiterated that the foundation has ceased “funding to Mayo County Board until appropriate governance structures are put in place. The lack of financial governance is at the centre of the ongoing dispute between the foundation and the county board which led to the foundation withdrawing its support.
“It is clear to the foundation that Mayo GAA need significant financial support to sustain and develop GAA games in the county. The foundation’s support is now at risk due to the serious deficits in financial governance at board level.”
A source told The Irish Times earlier this month that the stand-off between the county board and the Foundation deepened after social media post earlier this month, where the foundation announced “with great regret that due to a breakdown in relations our foundation can no longer work with @gaamayo_official in their current structure”.
It held its big fund-raising dinner in New York in May at a time of high enthusiasm for the Mayo team, which had just won this year’s Allianz Football League and faced New York in the Connacht championship on the same weekend as the event.
At the dinner county chair Mike Connelly described O’Leary as “one of the greatest Mayo supporters”. More recent relations between the foundation and the county board were described as “strained” by one source in the county. Earlier this month, O’Leary told the Mayo News he had become “frustrated” with the “unprofessional” way the county board conducted its business.
Mayo GAA had so far declined to make any comment on the situation, initially in the hope that problems can be resolved.
The foundation retains a significant six-figure sum as a result of its activities - around €250,000 - and has already spent nearly double that amount this year.
The post also stated that the foundation would donate 12 O’Neill’s footballs to every club in the county and make a cash donation to hurling clubs. Furthermore, Mayo Mban, the supporters club for the county women’s football team, have thanked the foundation and O’Leary for €10,000 committed to them.
One of the key points of friction is believed to be the undefined nature of the relationship between the county board and the foundation. It is common for supporters’ groups to look for more autonomy in distributing the funds they raise whereas GAA administrators believe that this should happen through official channels.
According to one source with experience of working to raise funds for Mayo, this can create difficulties: “The county board need funds and want fund-raisers to do the work but still want total control. One of the big stumbling blocks is that donors involved with certain fund-raising groups and events want funds to be ring-fenced for county teams’ efforts and expenses but the county board prefer to mix it all into one pot and use it as they see fit.”
The board allowed a loose relationship with the foundation to go unregulated, according to one observer. “There needed to be a bit more ‘terms and conditions’ around the whole process of raising money that was to be distributed. It was raised on the assumption that it would be going to the senior team or projects within Mayo GAA, like a training centre or underage structures.”
Mayo have spent over €1 million on the senior team in recent years, helped by fund raising in London and Ireland by Cairde Maigh Eo, the official fund raising organisation for the county.
The hope was that this success could be replicated in the US and the revenue streams combined. The county is also repaying a sizeable debt incurred by redevelopment work in MacHale Park. This debt was taken over by Croke Park consolidated on improved terms but still costs around €30,000 per month.
The Foundation is registered as a not-for-profit corporation in the USA. Their statement concluded: “The foundation currently holds €250,000 in cash which it wishes to release to Mayo GAA and we very much look forward to engaging with the county board at their earliest convenience. The foundation can also confirm that it has received significant financial pledges from its donors to help provide Mayo GAA with a sustainable funding source into the future.”