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Counties and clubs in a battle to beat recession

By Declan Bogue

The meeting of Tyrone and Donegal last week in the National Football League attracted a crowd of almost 10,000 to Omagh on a blustery Sunday.

The week previous, a handful of spectators attended the Tyrone and Fermanagh hurling clash at Brewster Park.

Yet, when it comes to handing out money to county boards at the end of the year, both Fermanagh and Tyrone will get the same money.

It might sound old-fashioned, but the GAA adhere rigidly to their own style of socialism when it comes to their finances, something that is the envy of other sports.

"We operate a pool of funding," explains Director-General Paraic Duffy.

"That pool is created in a number of ways. The first thing is sponsorship rights. We have six sponsors to the Championships, 20 sponsors to all our major competitions.

"Gate receipts would be a major thing, and broadcast rights also.

"That produces a pot of money, £40-50 million a year, whatever that is. Then it becomes a question of how you distribute that.

"Now, initially, every county gets a flat fee of £175,000 a year for existing."

He elaborates: "Beyond that, the problem is to get money for us. A huge amount goes on coaching and development – a huge amount, maybe £12 million a year, goes on coaches and stuff like that. The last five years, we never cut back our investment in coaching in games. We put a huge amount of money into coaches in Ulster, all over Ireland, and so far we have held firm on that."

One of the many muddled observations that former Olympic runner Jerry Kiernan made in his recent comments about GAA players not deserving government grants was that: "I think the GAA are the richest sporting organisation in the country and should be well able to look after themselves."

Duffy explains how the GAA does not exist as an exercise in wealth accumulation, saying: "Eighty-five per cent of the revenue generated by Croke Park goes back out again.

"It goes out through club grants. For example if a club is doing up its ground or something. It goes back to the provinces, through the counties, and so on.

"Then you make decisions on each project. Garvaghy (Tyrone's training complex) got money – that kind of thing.

"So the reason the pot is falling is because the money from the sponsorship is falling somewhat. Gate receipts are down. Attendances have held up but our prices are lower."

Underneath the glamour and the two per cent of the playing population that perform at inter-county level exists a vibrant club scene.

While some clubs have fallen into serious debt after starting capital projects at the wrong time, Duffy maintains that no clubs in Ulster are under financial strain.

However, he has received correspondence on how tough life has become at that level to balance the books and explains: "The cost of running a club on a day-to-day basis is huge. Running a GAA club is not like running a soccer team out of the local pub. You can get a set of jerseys in the local park and away you go.

"(In) a GAA club you are expected to do certain things; you are expected to be in the heart of the community providing facilities.

"You have insurance, the player injury scheme and then day-to-day running of the club.

"All of those are huge costs and in the context of raising money, it is extremely difficult at the moment."

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