Kevin O'Donovan: Debt repayment plan, not centre of excellence, the priority for 'One Cork'

O'Donovan confirmed that the development of a Cork GAA owned centre of excellence, on a greenfield site, has been 'long-fingered' for the time being
Kevin O'Donovan: Debt repayment plan, not centre of excellence, the priority for 'One Cork'

Eoin Downey, Captain Cork Minor Hurling, Tracey Kennedy, Cork GAA Chairperson, Eoghan Nash, Captain Cork Minor Football and Kevin O’Donovan, CEO/Secretary Cork GAA in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at the launch of One Cork. Picture: Darragh Kane

Cork GAA CEO Kevin O’Donovan has said it would be “irresponsible” to prioritise the development of a centre of excellence in the county before a “proper” debt repayment plan for Páirc Uí Chaoimh has been finalised.

In the continued absence of a Cork GAA centre of excellence, O’Donovan said the new new ‘One Cork’ model for GAA in the county is determined to establish partnerships with third-level institutions in the county.

There had been “real engagement” in developing ties with Cork Institute of Technology, but this project has been slowed by the onset of Covid.

O'Donovan confirmed that the development of a Cork GAA owned centre of excellence, on a greenfield site, has been “long-fingered” for the time being.

Businessman Michael O’Flynn, one of the key drivers of the One Cork project, said the stadium debt will be close to €20m once all “pluses and minuses” have been factored in.

The level of debt facing Cork GAA, O'Flynn added, is not “in any way frightening”.

No target date for clearing the stadium debt has been set.

“There is huge fear amongst our supporters at the moment that that debt will derail our activities. One Cork is a bulwark against that," said O’Donovan.

“There are issues to be resolved, which we expect to be in a steady-state on over the next 12 to 18 months, and then we'll be in a position to refinance over a long term.

“In terms of ownership of a centre of excellence, that is not on the agenda at this immediate point.

I think it would be irresponsible until we have a proper debt repayment plan really fixed.

“The greenfield site is certainly long-fingered for the moment, but still firmly on the agenda because it is part of the terms of reference and the vision of this group. We would love a home like that for our teams.

“In the short-term, if you have debt, if you have investment to make in the teams and the day-to-day, then the prudent approach is to partner with the universities, which is definitely right on the agenda, and still have that vision for the long-term for that greenfields site.” 

Twelve different sub-groups have been formed under the One Cork banner, with O’Donovan and O’Flynn confident this influx of outside expertise will achieve much-needed cost savings within Cork GAA. 

Separate to the stadium debt, the county board was over half a million euro in the red last year.

“Voluntary professional support”, which One Cork will deliver, will benefit Cork GAA on a daily basis.

“This is about a movement of people that actually are going to take an interest in, contribute and be part of the responsibility for Cork becoming totally independent of everyone,” said O’Flynn.

Number one priority

He was keen to reassure the Cork GAA community that amid talk of revenue-raising commercial activity and tackling the debt hanging over Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the number one priority of the new body is a thriving club and county games scene.

“I am not just wearing a business, loan reduction cap here. I am very much wearing a cap that if we are to succeed in everything in Cork, we need to succeed on the playing pitch,” O’Flynn continued.

“So don't think for a moment we are becoming overly business-focused. Every single person in that One Cork group, the teams are our priority. If we haven't a thriving county and club games structure, we are going nowhere.

I can assure you we don't need any encouragement to have the games front and centre in One Cork. They are already there.

Supporters group, Cairde Chorcaí, is no longer in operation, but O’Flynn did stress that the objectives of the supporters branch are the same as those espoused by One Cork.

“They are front and centre in One Cork in that there are four of the Cairde Chorcaí former directors involved.” 

Elsewhere, the county board executive has yet to discuss the make-up of the senior football management team for 2021. Ronan McCarthy’s three-year term came to an end following last Sunday’s Munster final defeat to Tipperary. 

It is believed the executive is keen for McCarthy to remain at the helm.

Objections, meanwhile, have been raised by approximately 20% of Cork clubs to the Rebels’ Bounty fundraising initiative.

Under this new proposal, senior clubs have to sell 100 tickets, intermediate clubs 70 tickets and junior clubs 50 tickets, at €100 a ticket. Clubs will only retain revenue on tickets sold beyond these base numbers.

The quotas, according to the executive, have been designed to share the load across all clubs “in a fair and transparent manner”.

At Tuesday’s county board meeting, Kevin O’Donovan said a number of objections had been raised by approximately 20% of clubs.

A support committee has been set up to assist the clubs who have reservations, with the executive expressing the view that the time is right to move on with the project. Rebels’ Bounty will be in place for three years.

During the meeting, O’Donovan said he hoped to see the Cork minor teams and U20 hurling team in action before Christmas.

Inter-county underage competitions were paused when the country moved to Level 5 restrictions on October 22.

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