Omagh set the wheels in motion as they seek to make ends meet

St Enda’s hosting a Christmas Market as rising costs force clubs increasingly innovative

After hosting the lord mayor's show of the Sunday night county final, Omagh St Enda's set the wheels in motion.

Healy Park will not be hosting the clash of Dromore and the Fermanagh champions in the Ulster club championship on December 4th as the club are transforming their premises into a Christmas Market.

Running from December 3rd until January 2nd, the most eye-catching attraction will be a 36-metre Ferris Wheel that will dwarf even their floodlights. Some 25 stalls will sell a variety of goods such as hot food, drinks and scented candles.

They will cater for 2,000 families to visit Santa Claus's grotto. They have invited every school in the local area, from all religions and creeds, to take part in performing on the outdoor community stage.

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A pleasing aspect for the club is how their application received the warm approval of the chairman of the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Errol Thompson of the DUP. It will cost them something in the region of £50,000 to stage, and they are speculating to accumulate.

Already, they have initiated an innovation when they launched their Café 32 in June. It opens six days a week from 10am to 2pm and caters for a range of senior citizens groups and the general public.

Tyrone have come in for some scathing criticism for their pricing structure of their county final, with £15 admission and children being charged £3. The £16 charge for a stream of the game was also subjected to serious scrutiny.

Previously it was a case that children were charged in, but only to the main stand. This was explained by health and safety requirements having to account for the capacity of a seated stand. Children could go free into other areas of the ground, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The move didn't go down well in the county and local businesses from the competing clubs of Dromore and Coalisland stepped forward to cover the cost of children attending.

The episode could be summed up by noble aspirations for what the GAA should be about – versus economic reality.

Much like Ireland found to its cost when staging multiple Eurovision Song Contests in the 1990s, success comes at a cost. Tyrone's All-Ireland success can also create its own problems.

Under the bonnet, Tyrone GAA face financial constraints that do not affect say, a Dublin with their AIG sponsorship. There is no full-time commercial director role such as the one Mossy Quinn fulfils for Dublin.

Team holiday

The team holiday is a burden. Croke Park will contribute a reputed €45,000 towards the cost but it’s hardly a drop in the bucket for a squad and backroom team that are travelling to Florida.

After the final win over Mayo, the general Tyrone set-up was lauded as a success, with praise given to how they work through their schools and liaise with their clubs.

The first part can be addressed with a grim statistic. There are currently just three Games Promotion Officers for football and one for hurling in the entire county. Ulster Council supply two football and one hurling to supplement it. That is vastly different to the primary schools coaching in Dublin or other top-level counties, though there are to be two more positions appointed shortly.

The second part raises a wry smile from club volunteers who receive little, if no correspondence from their county board. The Tyrone County Board has not held a single meeting outside of county convention since March 2020.

Levels of expectations for teams and players are fostered at county level and trickle down the system into clubs. Now, clubs expect expert levels of strength and conditioning programmes. GPS systems to monitor levels of players are now de rigueur, even at junior level.

How this is all funded is a Wild West. There are no guidelines from Central Council.

Omagh chairman Conor Sally spells out their own position in trying to generate income for a club whose participation levels are rocketing.

“The expenses and overheads to run a GAA club are massive. We have 24 teams within the club, a heavy rates bill every year, we have heavy fees for pitches. We have two pitches now and are looking for another two,” he explains.

“We have to invest like others have to. Your GPS, strength and conditioning, everything else. That has now become common down through your various age groups and I suppose you have to keep up with it.

“Ultimately, it is now a business. And every club is the same, even the smaller clubs have a certain number of teams and an amount of money that they have to take in over the year just to make ends meet.”

Club costs have become eye-watering. Dublin’s Cuala won two All-Ireland club hurling titles in 2017 and 2018.

“To run the adult hurling section, with four teams, you are talking €90-€100k a year,” said the hurling board chairman, Barry O’Halloran last year.

That’s since they stopped winning. When they had to bridge the winter gap before the season was squashed tight, O’Halloran estimated the cost of the All-Ireland winning seasons at €120,000.

Serial achievers

Then you have serial achievers like Corofin.

"In terms of hard cash figures, we would probably spend over the season – with 17 teams between adult teams to underage and to a lesser extent ladies teams – you are probably looking at something like €300,000 a year," explained club treasurer, John Raftery.

“That’s everything, lights, pitch care, repairs, bus hire, catering for teams. Everything comes up to that.”

One of the less sexy motions on the clár for the recent Special Congress was the introduction of audit and risk committees in counties. It comprises an independent committee, operating outside the county board and reports to Croke Park on spending.

It was voted in by 91 per cent. It got merely a passing mention with most of the oxygen given to the restructuring of the football championship. But it could turn out to be far more crucial to the future health of the Association.