When it comes to bad news, Cork GAA’s surely sold out now

When it comes to bad news, Cork GAA’s surely sold out now
Cork GAA officers, Diarmuid Gowen, treasurer, Tracey Kennedy, chairperson, and Kevin O'Donovan, CEO, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: David Keane

In the difficult matter of serving up bad news, those PR execs in sharp suits like to talk of getting out in front of the story. Beating the naysayers to the punch and controlling the narrative insofar as that’s possible and plausible.

When it comes to Cork GAA’s serial financial woes, that’s a tough needle to thread.

The CEO of Cork GAA Kevin O’Donovan, flanked by his chairman Tracey Kennedy and treasurer Diarmuid Gowan on Friday presented the final draft of his report to next week’s annual convention and in case anyone present wasn’t aware of its significance, he addressed the financial section thus:

“There’s no point in running away from this, it’s the key aspect of the report and there’s no point in saying otherwise. Losses totalling €559,000 were a “shock”, he said, “a wake-up call.” Once-off items such as the settlement with former administrator Diarmuid O’Donovan and ‘retirements’ — which presumably included Frank Murphy’s official farewell — accounted for around a quarter of that overall figure.

The remainder can be filed under ‘Must Do Better’. Attendances fell by some €200,000 and there was also a €50,000 minus from the once-annual money-spinner that is the Cork Clubs draw. Even the plusses were negatives — a €107,000 increase in the cost of inter-count teams, hiked by the progress of the Minor and U20 football teams to All-Ireland finals.

It’s cumulative effects of them all which has killed us. The pluses going down and the minuses going up -— which of them concern me most? Every one of them because we’re not generating enough revenue and our costs are going up. Attendances worry me because it’s subtle. How do you get attendances back up? With more games? It’s not as simple as that. That’s the one the jury is out on.

“There are other costs— retirements, a legal case, inter county spending has not been cut, there were new roles approved by the board arising out of the football review. None of those were massive on their own but cumulatively they left us down another significant piece.”

O’Donovan, Kennedy and co must reckon if they hadn’t bad news to be selling, they’d be out of business. A combination of Páirc Ui Chaoimh revamp over-runs, Croke Park’s intervention and the new pitch fiasco made the first half of 2019 so traumatic that the relegation of the senior footballers to Division 3 of the League seemed incidental by comparison.

That the year now finishes with another financial uppercut is a blow but here’s the oddest thing — the winds of positive change blowing through the Marina seem to have most folk in the Páirc up for the fight in 2020. 2019 might just be, as O’Donovan intimated, the year the bad stuff bottoms out.

Cork GAA CEO Kevin O'Donovan. Picture: David Keane
Cork GAA CEO Kevin O'Donovan. Picture: David Keane

The relaunch of Cork’s Premium ticket packages for 2020 was on Thursday night and has the added bonus this time of something broadly appealing to package. John Mullins, a member of the stadium board, was bullish about the re-laid pitch, comparing it to World Cup final venues and international stadia. The available evidence from those who’ve sampled it at close quarters support his confidence.

Tracey Kennedy reckoned there is a “high probability” of another big concert aside from the big Westlife gig next August. The first International Rules test is booked for November 15, and there’s a nice slew of match bookings too in League and Championship.

Away from the stadium, there’s been forward movement in Cork GAA itself, though they might seem sidebars and panels in the context of debt headlines. Whatever O’Donovan’s salary was for his first year in the Cork GAA hotseat, he’s earned it.

In 12 months Cork’s inter-county set up has undergone a remarkable transformation, the respective set ups in hurling and football have been professionalised to the envy of rivals, the county championships completely revamped and the stadium is finally beginning to look as it should— even if blood was spilt on the office floors getting there.

Cork GAA chairperson Tracey Kennedy. Picture: David Keane
Cork GAA chairperson Tracey Kennedy. Picture: David Keane

On that hardy annual of inter-county team costs, O’Donovan addressed the duplicity of the argument: “We have appointed a High-Performance manager and there’s no point in having him if we don’t equip him to serve our county teams. People are telling me we have to get back to Croke Park, so are costs coming down in some of those areas or going up?

“We have €500,000 to find in the next 12 months. It’s grand coming in with a rant about inter-county expenses, but we’re the same people sitting in the stands in Croke Park asking ‘why aren’t they fitter, why aren’t they faster?’

“If we had successful Cork teams that changes a lot of things in these accounts though. We can harp on about the cost of inter-county teams, but they make this (Páirc Uí Chaoimh) a different stadium.”

Next Sunday, O’Donovan and his executive will go through the annual report with the delegates from the clubs at convention. It may resemble root canal treatment as the clubs pore over the half a million problems facing a county, scrutinising the minuses and interrogating the plusses. Cork GAA has been selling bad news for too long now, but there’s a sense that the inter-county ship has been righted with the appointments of Kingston, Cunningham, O’Neill, O’Connell and co. A corner turned.

Maybe their luck might too. O’Donovan said he wouldn’t like to build a business model on the chance that a big act will fill the stadium for a concert. But a few championship draws might help.

“Concerts and replays… they’re like red-letter days. Money comes in the door. Replays? They’re brilliant when they come.”

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