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£20m cost of bid to be all-Ireland kings: Ulster counties among the more frugal when it comes to splashing cash

By Declan Bogue

Spending on the preparation of inter-county teams reached close to £20 million in 2016 as counties sought to gain an edge in their pursuit of the Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy Cups.

Taking into account the county senior footballers and hurlers, along with various feeder squads such as under-21s, minors and development squads, the overall increase in spending is a rise of 5.13 per cent, with the pursuit of success never more expensive.

However, the overall picture taken province by province sees Ulster bucking the trend, with significant amounts of savings with the bills cut by 3.1 per cent.

Only Donegal, Cavan, Antrim and Fermanagh's spending went up. An accurate figure could not be obtained for Down, but it is believed to be an approximate value of the spending for 2015.

What the tables here will reveal is the rather surprising situation that Armagh are second-highest spenders in the province and yet were dismissed in the first round of the Ulster Football Championship, before failing to make the most of a second opportunity at Laois in the qualifiers.

Elsewhere, Antrim made the greatest savings in 2016. Although their hurlers reached the Christy Ring final and were denied by Meath in the replay, their overall bill shrunk by £24,584 in the first year under Collie Donnelly's chairmanship.

Tyrone continue to provide their support with the greatest value for money when it comes to team preparation.

Their senior football team won the Ulster title for the first time since 2010, but in doing so the county board expenditure fell by £17,800 from the previous year, when they went the long way round in the qualifiers to reach an All-Ireland semi-final.

There was a marginal decrease in spending in Leinster province (1.12 per cent saved) but the most surprising figure was an enormous leap in expenditure from Connacht counties, an overall inflation of 35.7 per cent.

Mayo county board shelled out a staggering £642,918 as their senior footballers went on a tour of the qualifiers and made it to an All-Ireland football final replay. Meanwhile, their hurlers claimed the Nicky Rackard Cup.

Roscommon creep into the top 10 of spenders, but it should be noted that they are an outlier given that their first Championship engagement was away to New York in Gaelic Park, the Bronx, which naturally requires a serious outlay.

These figures come in the wake of a number of recent high-profile announcements about supporters clubs pulling their weight in helping with team preparations.

The recently-revamped 'Club Down' supporters club hosted a night in late January.

The Fermanagh fundraising wing of the county board, 'Club Eirne', was re-established in late 2014 and enjoyed the largesse of their small but loyal support during their run to the All-Ireland quarter-final in their first year of operation.

The most established of supporters clubs remains 'Club Tyrone' who released their annual report this week, revealing that they raised £286,054 for the county board in 2016.

Tyrone's total income in 2016 was £1.38 million, with the expenditure at £1.23 million.

In recent years Ulster counties have embarked on fundraising trips to America.

In 2016, both Monaghan and Cavan hosted functions and golf days Stateside, while Donegal are believed to be taking their team over later this year in a funding drive.

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