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Clubs may be fighting just to survive for a number of years: expert

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Survival mission: Dublin’s David Byrne evades Peter Harte

Survival mission: Dublin’s David Byrne evades Peter Harte

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Survival mission: Dublin’s David Byrne evades Peter Harte

With Director-General Tom Ryan warning of a possible loss of £53m during the coronavirus lockdown, a leading authority on GAA finances has stated that clubs are in grave danger of folding due to the inevitable long-term recession in store.

Michael Moynihan, author of 'GAAconomics: The Secret Life of Money in the GAA', believes that the financial implications of the years to come will be comparable to the 1950s with mass emigration at the time from Ulster and the Republic of Ireland to Britain and America.

"Clubs are going to struggle. Maybe people will emigrate. In that case, how are clubs going to fill teams when families are having one or two kids?" asked Moynihan.

"People always talk about the '50s and how bad it was but you forget that families regularly ran to eight or nine, 10 kids. Three families could keep a club alive if there was an even split of boys and girls for 10 years.

"But the pressure that clubs were under at a time of plenty and a time of boom, those pressures aren't going to go away over the next couple of years when things go down the toilet a little bit."

There has been a growing trend of migration within the island for the last two decades, flowing eastward towards Dublin.

To take a town like Cahirsiveen in Kerry, the homeplace of legendary player Maurice Fitzgerald, as an example. They were unable to produce a minor team in 2019, instead having to amalgamate with other clubs.

In such examples, given that clubs are going to be fielding fewer teams, the subject of affiliation fees then comes up. Can county boards realistically expect to charge their usual rate?

But they too, even pre-coronavirus, are feeling the pinch.

"As (former Director-General) Paraic Duffy said, there are generally seven or eight counties doing well, Dublin being the classic example. There are seven or eight that are so small they do business well because they cannot overdo the expenditure," said Moynihan.

"But there are others in the middle who are trying to improve their performance on the field or whatever; they are the ones you have to keep an eye on.

"But a lot of counties now will have to come under close scrutiny. The county boards, some of which are not known for their creativity, are going to have to become far more creative in keeping clubs alive.

"So there will have to be a re-examination of the administration, there might have to be a lot more flexibility, because they are going to suffer, there is no doubt about that."

At a local level, so much revenue will be lost. On a typical match day, there could be a programme stuffed with advertisements, radio commentary sponsored by a local company and numerous business interests paying into county and club supporters' club schemes.

With the loss of so many small and medium enterprises, that market is likely to contract massively.

"The obvious point to make is that all those companies' discretionary spending is going to disappear," said Moynihan.

"I remember in the last recession speaking to Liam Hayes who made the point that, going to watch your county play a match, is that discretionary spending? Or is it like a holiday, where no matter how bad things are you could take a week away?

"I can see attendances maybe holding up, but you see the local club that are sponsored by the local pub, and suddenly the local pub is only open three nights a week because people don't have the money. So because of that, there are going to be challenges."

County squads will have to make do with an 'earthier' existence.

"The big question is, will county managers justify bringing teams to Carton House or Breaffy? Are they going to be able to say they need to go away for a week to prepare for the Championship?" asked Moynihan.

"There's also going to be an interesting effect in terms of the make-up of county teams. We have players fluting along for five or six years in college, maybe going on to another few years doing something not demanding, but it is handy to fit in training.

"Finally, this shadow economy of people who are on the fringes of county teams, offering services of dubious value but well able to charge for those services - is that economy going to collapse?

"I am not talking about a masseur, physio, doctor, the nutritionist who comes in once at the start of the year and vanishes."

Truly, everything will have to change when we get out the far side of this crisis.

Belfast Telegraph