Five takeaways from the ongoing financial difficulties at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

Five takeaways from the ongoing financial difficulties at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

Michael Moynihan looks at five takeaways from today's Irish Examiner revelations on the ongoing financial difficulties at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

1 The price tag is bigger than anyone thought.

Cost overruns are no great surprise with a large-scale capital project, but Friday's Examiner Sport revelations make for deeply unpleasant reading for those on Leeside.

Recent figures suggested a final bill for the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh of roughly €86m - a not insurmountable total given Cork County Board’s estimated funds of €64m, with additional income expected from sources as diverse as concerts, premium tickets and land sales.

However, a cost approaching €110m is considerably higher than the most pessimistic estimates, breaks the psychological barrier of the €100m mark, and changes the landscape utterly when it comes to the amount the GAA will have to pay to clear the debt eventually.

2 What about the Cork County Board’s autonomy?

The involvement of Croke Park in county affairs is nothing new. The Kildare County Board had an official parachuted in to keep an eye on their spending some years ago, for instance, and had to get a cash injection from the GAA to clear their debts (a Kildare delegate described the GAA official as an Ajay Chopra at the time, which helps to date the event).

However, that cash injection was for €700,000. The bill in Cork is €20m-plus over and above the latest estimate, which is a new order of magnitude altogether. Peter McKenna’s comments point to a Croke Park presence on Leeside for a decade and a half, possibly, not a couple of years. This raises legitimate questions of what decisions the Cork County Board will be free to take in that time without the oversight of GAA headquarters.

Five takeaways from the ongoing financial difficulties at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

3 The playing surface is not up to standard.

No matter how much the county board - or the GAA centrally - owes on the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, a large constituency will fixate on the fact that the playing surface in the new stadium will have to be replaced.

Because the window of opportunity to do so in the winter, when the pitch is not being used as much, is so narrow, that remedial work may not occur for 12-18 months.

This, in turn, may mean a sub-standard playing surface for all of 2019. This is simultaneously one of the least important and most significant takeaways from today’s revelations. Least important because - as McKenna points out - issues with the playing surface are not unknown in new developments. Most significant because of its symbolic value - if the playing surface is not fit for purpose, what else is wrong?

4 Is history repeating itself?

Unfortunately, those with long memories in Cork will be reminded of the first iteration of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which opened in 1976; the initial price was £1m, but with interest repayments the cost reached £1.7m.

Repayments ran on into the eighties and were so costly that the Cork County Board was non-viable for a time in that decade.

“We paid very close on £900,000 on interest alone,” Cork County Board secretary Frank Murphy told Tony Leen of the Irish Examiner in 2014 when remembering the period.

“We weren’t solvent at one point. In one instance our bank interest commitment for the year exceeded our entire income from our county championships by £35,000. In 1980 alone, the amount of interest to the bank was £170,995.”

There are discomfiting echoes of those comments in Peter McKenna’s remarks today that the directors of Staid Cois Laoi “couldn’t serve on the board if the company was going to be insolvent.”

5 The ramifications haven’t yet been felt.

The considerable amount of taxpayers’ money invested in the redevelopment (€30m) and the new figure, towards €110m, are likely to interest the Public Accounts Committee regarding the exact reasons the costs escalated. Those involved in planning and executing the work may find themselves facing some tough questioning in the months ahead.

For others - for Cork players and management at all levels, for new secretary Kevin O’Donovan, for fundraising organisation Cairde Chorcai, and most of all, for the people who put their money, time and energy into following and sustaining club and county games on Leeside, it’s a worrying time, with certainty a long way off.

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