Mulvihill: Bumper crowds the key to Croker finance

THE successful funding of the projected 98m debt on Croke Park by the GAA over the next decade will depend on major championship games continuing to attract big attendances, GAA chief Liam Mulvihill admitted yesterday.

Any appreciable drop could have serious consequences, the Director-General said, adding that the dependence on gate receipts 'holding up' represented the only weakness in their forward planning.

"The Central Council realises 80% of its income from gate receipts. And, if they were to fall by 25 or 30%, we'd be in serious trouble. That's the long and the short of it," he admitted.

Central Council has rubber-stamped a Management Committee recommendation to proceed with the erection of a new terrace on the site of the old Nally Stand.

Questioned yesterday, Mr Mulvihill explained that the debt would be tackled on two main fronts through surpluses from the company which now runs Croke Park and the Central Council. The leasing of corporate facilities and the sale of long-term tickets on a rotation basis form an integral part of income generation.

The Association is confident of 'a better performance' by the company, in other words that it will produce a surplus on its annual operations. "That will have to come mainly from non-match activities and we have set fairly ambitions for the company going forward in income from this source," he said. "What should improve that significantly is the change in the licensing situation made during the summer which will allow them to organise functions that they weren't able to organise in the past. Secondly, if the hotel comes into operation, it will bring a lot of business to the Croke Park operation."

"In the meantime, there will be very large sales of corporate tickets due. For example the boxes and the premium seats on the Cusack Stand are due to be re-sold in 2004 and 2005. That should bring in something in the order of 30m, but, allowing for the fact that they might not all be sold, that figure could reduce to 25m. Then, in 2010 the Canal End will be due for re-sale and in 2112/2113 the Hogan Stand will be due for re-sale.

"The whole thing is possible because of low interest rates and the re-sale of the corporate tickets in fairly large tranches and 'rolling up' some of the interest. The idea here is that interest isn't paid on an annual basis, at a period that we can't afford to pay it.

"It's really about organising our borrowings in a way that suits our targeted income over the next ten to fifteen years. Having said that, it's a fairly ambitious programme and doesn't allow much room for error on our part."

Mr Mulvihill pointed out that they have also set aside a fair deal of extra money for games development and projects such as Dublin and the urban areas with 'a considerable amount of expenditure' planned in urban areas.

Meanwhile the GAA's Hurling Development Committee is drawing up 'strict new guidelines' relating to the construction of sliothars.

The high powered body aim to determine how many varieties on the market conform to regulations. While it was accepted at the weekend meeting of the Central Council that there was concern at the way the new sliothar bounced in Croke Park, officials felt that much of the criticism was 'a little bit off the mark.'

They pointed to the fact that the design had been used in last year's All-Ireland final and extensively over the course of the National League campaign and 'no remarks had been passed about it.'

While Central Council took a decision to restore match presentations to the (Hogan) stand, Association President Sean Kelly warned that this did not equate with supporters being allowed to come on to the field.

"It is important to send out that message. Last year (when Armagh fans stormed on to the field) it was taken out of our hands," he commented.

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