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Joe Kernan: Cash is king and it has made paupers of us all

Within the past week, frightening evidence has been provided that financial constraints are already taking a heavy toll within the GAA as a whole.

The decision of the Canal Court Hotel, Newry to call time on its twelve-year sponsorship deal with Down, a call by a member of the Mayo Strategic Review Committee for the county board there to stand down as it is financially “unfit for purpose”, Carlow’s unwillingness to appoint a full-time secretary because of the cost factor involved, Kerry’s team holiday trimmed to one week and the huge debt confronting Kildare combine to paint a gloomy fiscal picture as 2011 draws to a close.

And this is really only a snapshot of just what prevails throughout the entire country.

Fundraising is currently an arduous grind with clubs and counties discovering that the income from Lotto competitions and other weekly initiatives simply does not come anywhere near meeting outgoings.

Even the success of the one-off ‘Strictly come Dancing’ events beloved of clubs nowadays, while lucrative in its way, still leaves many bills unpaid.

And the recent survey of county grounds which has revealed that capital expenditure will be required on some 15-20 of them if they are to be brought up to the required health and safety standards will mean additional outlay for already hard-pressed county boards.

If the GAA has cause for satisfaction on some fronts, there are grounds for grave apprehension in other areas. The completion of the new-look Croke Park reflects great credit on visionaries like Peter Quinn and Liam Mulvihill who set the ball rolling in the 90s and were not deterred by the prophets of doom who appeared to abound then even though the recession was still only a tiny dot on the horizon.

How fortunate the GAA is that the stadium, one of the best in Europe, was finished before the recession really began to bite. Can you imagine trying to build such a stadium today?

And it is to the great credit that bodies such as the Ulster Council pressed ahead with ambitious plans for the floodlighting of its major grounds in spite of the looming financial perils.

Their courage and single-mindedness have proven a great boost to the Association, the impressive stadia in the province currently a glowing testimony to the Council’s commitment.

But the future certainly looks grim. With Croke Park monitoring the finances of county boards much more closely and banks pursuing loan repayments vigorously, the mostly amateur officers who administer the day-to-day affairs of the Association in every county are coming under more and more pressure.

Players’ expenses will be more carefully policed in 2012, I feel. And the regulation outgoings incurred by managers and backroom staff will also be subject to closer scrutiny. We should not lose sight of the fact that a sizeable proportion of income is generated through fans paying into matches.

Obviously the GAA is the recipient of handsome figures from TV companies and advertisers but this latter source of income is being diluted to some extent in the current climate.

In some counties there are vibrant Supporters Clubs or official ‘Friends’ groupings who can help subsidise the county board coffers. But even these bodies are feeling the pinch, forcing the Association to explore other avenues of fundraising.

Novel ideas are being mooted, some of which are feasible and others impractical but at least efforts are being made to come to terms with what is a very difficult and trying situation.

It will take a lot of initiative, and sustained diligence to ensure that clubs and counties can pay their way in 2012.

Even counties which attain considerable success do so at a frighteningly high cost. Dublin may have won the All-Ireland title this year and reached the Leinster hurling final but it would have taken well over £1 million to achieve this.

Such costs — fuel, accommodation, staff etc — are expected to escalate next year.

This month the annual Conventions will be held in all Ulster counties and you can be sure that finance will figure highly on every agenda.

The choice of new officials, team performances and a review of facilities will of course all form part of convention debates — but that word ‘money’ is certain to surface again and again.

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