B of I to continue to provide the bucks

CHRISTMAS Day may be a full week away but the GAA is unlikely to receive a more welcome boost over the festive season than yesterday’s news that Bank of Ireland would be continuing it’s SFC sponsorship for a further four years until 2007.

The bank’s relationship with the Association began in 1979 with sponsorship of the All Stars and in 1994 the relationship between the two reached new heights with the company’s decision to become the inaugural sponsors of the football Championship. The current sponsorship deal was due to end in 2003 but the partnership will now last for at least 13 years following yesterday’ announcement.

No-one is now in any doubt that the GAA is big business and the re-opening of the jaw-dropping stadium at Croke Park has only served to emphasise the Association’s status as a business of serious might - a fact Bank of Ireland are only too well aware of.

Bank of Ireland commissioned a survey two weeks after the completion of this year’s football championship to find out exactly how big a role the GAA plays in public life and even allowing for the fact that the dust had yet to settle on Armagh’s maiden Sam Maguire success, the statistics make for impressive showing.

“The football Championship is the biggest and most popular sporting event in the country,” stated Bank of Ireland’s Des Crowley at yesterday’s announcement in the fittingly plush surroundings of the Bank’s Art Centre in College Green, Dublin.

“96% of the public are aware of the Championship, 69% watch it on TV and a cumulative figure of 1.2 million people attended the Bank of Ireland 2002 football championship.”

Crowley also pointed out that 83% of those questioned felt that GAA sports were as popular as ever, while 71% think the GAA is becoming more progressive in its outlook. The last figure is particularly interesting considering the negative publicity the Association has received over the question of ‘opening’ Croke Park to other sports in recent years.

GAA President Sean McCague was understandably elated with the continuation of the deal with such high-profile sponsors.

“The Bank of Ireland Championship last year was probably one of the most exciting championships we’ve ever had. The fact that it had 69 games and so many new teams were there at the death, like Sligo and Armagh, and the fact that Armagh won the Sam Maguire for the first time - all of that made it a big year,” the Monaghan official reflected.

“We’re delighted (with the deal) because we’ve had Bank of Ireland as our partner before and we’re delighted that we can have that stability going forward for four years. We can now move on and look forward to the championships starting and look forward to dealing with other business not pertaining to sponsorship.”

McCague may well be about to vacate the driving seat at Headquarters, but he is aware that the ‘other business’ of which he spoke will continue long after his three-year presidential tenure has ended.

“The success of the qualifying system in both football and hurling has made it an exciting time for my presidency and those experiments have been very worthwhile,” he said.

“I’m hopeful that it will lead to a championship that will continue to capture the imagination of young people. The demand on us for tickets now for games shows that there is a huge interest in gaelic games now and that it is a trendy past-time for the young people of this country.”

Chief among McCague’s thoughts was the continuing concern nationwide over the status of the club game, which is being increasingly marginalised by the considerable flow of inter-county league and Championship fixtures.

With the Leinster club football final only being decided the Sunday before Christmas for the second year in a row, his words are as timely as they are apt.

“I have no doubt that there will be further tweaking (to the inter-county Championships) and that a balance will have to be maintained whereby club fixtures aren’t in any way hampered,” he conceded. “There is a concern that too many games are being televised and that is leading to difficulties for clubs having their club championship games played and difficulties for county committees in raising the necessary finance for their own leagues and championships internally.

“So, there are problems that need to be addressed and finding solutions to everybody’s satisfaction will be difficult but that’s the way the GAA is.”

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