When it comes to filling GAA coffers, ingenuity is crucial.
I speak not of this week’s ticket price hike by Croke Park bosses, which is a pretty obvious shakedown method given match-day punters are the GAA’s main cash cow.
No, it is Corduff Gaels in Co. Monaghan who’ve been innovative when it comes to fundraising.
After all, what could be more forward-thinking than auctioning off a graveyard plot to the highest bidder, which they will do at their Gala Ball this weekend?
Apparently, a spot in the two local cemeteries cannot be had for love nor money, so winning the cosy two-person berth can be seen as the ultimate in future-proofing.
According to the former Monaghan manager Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney, who is Corduff’s club chairman, bidders for the macabre auction lot will be getting a bargain.
“Inevitably, death will come to us all,” McEnaney said, with a Beckettian flourish, “so this prize really is priceless.”
Presumably Banty will take Mastercard.
Meanwhile, St. Eunan’s in Letterkenny are the latest club to launch a ‘Win a House’ draw, giving away a three-bed gaff worth €200,000. So this year, with a few careful and lucky investments, you could sort out your long-term residences for this life and the next — and support cash-strapped GAA clubs into the bargain.
Just as standards on the field are driven ever higher, so too are demands placed on hard-pressed club committees to find new and outlandish ways to fund it all.
Where once table quizzes, race nights and club lottos sufficed, now your local sports club must also stage gala events, put up epic-scale raffle prizes and reach out to deep-pocketed diaspora to keep the show on the road.
Novelty is key: White-collar boxing is so noughties; Strictly Come Dancing nights have quickstepped to passé status, while these days even a brand new John Deere looks a bit small-time when other club draws offer a semi-detached with south facing rear aspect.
The wow-factor is essential to get the cash rolling in, certainly in the amounts needed to meet modern ambitions.
“We built a brand new complex here in 2003 at the cost of €1.5m,” McEnaney told this paper last week, “so we are hoping that after this fundraiser, the club will be debt free.”
When you think Corduff has a population of about 300 people, it seems extraordinary that they would need to take on a seven-figure debt to finance their plans.
But this story is the norm for clubs around Ireland, for whom the relentless thrust for progress demands ever more eye-catching fundraising initiatives.
Every level of sport driven by the need to keep up with the Joneses, and the desire for snazzy clubhouses and state-of-the-art all-weather pitches (not to mention, let’s face it, hotshot outside coaches) has spread into every corner of the country.
Those who remember, none too fondly, the bare arses of the local senior team as they changed from the back of a car are astonished at the facilities on offer today.
It takes an extraordinary drive to take on these Herculean fundraising tasks, and no little daring too.
A few weeks ago I was asked to help conduct one of those ‘Win a House’ draws, this one for Aileach FC, a soccer club in Inishowen, Co Donegal. This sort of thing is, of course, not just the preserve of the GAA, and soccer clubs in Inishowen are a bit like GAA clubs in other parts of the country in the way they serve and represent their communities.
Aileach’s story is typical: Formed 25 years ago in the village of Burnfoot, their early games were played on cowshit-strewn fields, livestock shooed away before kick-off. They built up their facilities slowly — pitches, dressing rooms, indoor and outdoor astroturf — and racked up massive bank debt to do it.
They chipped away at the borrowings with normal fundraising, but the crushing weight of the debt demanded, in the words of chairman Stephen O’Donnell “something spectacular.”
Spectacular, in this case, was a four-bed house in nearby Buncrana.
There were over 3,700 tickets in the draw drum from which Finn Harps manager Ollie Horgan was asked to pull the lucky ticket on the night, with me acting as the supervisory Stokes Kennedy Crowley figure. That meant the club cleared about €200,000 profit, wiping out most of their debts.
All this was the result of a year of dogged hawking by the club committee. Stephen said that though they’d sold tickets around Ireland and beyond, the prize hadn’t drawn as much national publicity as they’d hoped because there were six other house draws going on around the country at the same time — showing that even houses might go the way of Super Ser heaters and bottles of Blue Nun as outdated raffle offerings.
But the vast majority of the Aileach tickets had been sold in the Inishowen area, mostly to the very people who benefit from the club’s facilities — the house itself was won by a guy from Burnfoot — and coming away from the small village that night it was clear to see what fundraising at this level really is.
It is a community taxing itself, and spending the receipts how it sees fit.
There is sport as it is played, on pitches and in halls around the country, and then there is this parallel universe, a shadow world of furrow-browed committee people competing in their own game, the latter being driven by the needs of the former, both asking their people: Can you dig a little deeper?
GAA president John Horan claimed a large chunk of the money raised by ticket price rises will be used to fund club development projects.
But critics have pointed out the average GAA match-goer who will absorb this hike is the same person who buys the raffle tickets, the sponsorship lines and the club lotto numbers — they, effectively, will be double-taxed to keep the wheel turning.
Any good tax system must be redistributive, so perhaps the price rises will be justified if funds go to places not feeling the improving economic climate of which Horan spoke.
When the job was done in Burnfoot, Ollie Horgan dropped me off at the hotel nearby.
Ollie was in awe at the drive of the Aileach committee, having spent a lifetime at the coalface of fundraising drudgery as a soccer club man and school teacher.
“That’s unbelievable what those people managed to do,” he said, “because that, all that side of it, it’s f*ckin’ torture. It’s so hard.”
And getting harder.