Clubbing together to help the Laois stars of tomorrow

Revelations of the precarious1 state of Waterford finances has sent shockwaves through the GAA. So how are county boards battling the recession? Brendan O’Brien looked at the model used by tomorrow’s Leinster’s quarter-finalists, Laois.

AT times, the glamour tends to blind us to the realities.

Take this weekend in Croke Park. Sean Dempsey’s Laois side will congregate tomorrow morning in Portlaoise before being driven up to their pre-match base in what will no doubt be a state-of-the-art coach replete with air-con.

First stop will be the Jackson Court Hotel – better known to most of us as ‘Coppers’ – for a last meal and some down time. After that it is on to the 82,500-capacity Croke Park and their date with Meath.

Players and management will be decked out in uniformed tracksuits, the kit they carry will all be supplied by the county board free of charge and, when they are done, it will be back to Harcourt Street for another nosebag and then home.

None of that comes cheap.

It cost the Leinster county €500,000 to keep the show on the road for their various inter-county sides last year. The total bill in 2008 had a fifth more on top and neither season was a particularly successful one on the field.

“You try to balance the books but once you have one team that is successful, that gets to a Leinster final or further, your costs go up,” says county treasurer Martin Byrne.

“We would like to solve those problems if they come about though.

“All teams cost money. We are lucky in that we are not paying any managers in Laois. It is all local people, done voluntarily. The cost on teams is on expenses, meals, travel, accommodation, gear and physios.

“It is expensive but we get by.”

Like every other county, officials in Laois are constantly aware of the need to generate funds, not just for their representative sides, but for their various coaching and development programmes.

Go Games, young referee programmes, development squads, club and school schemes, VHI Cul Camps, coach education tutors – they all cost money and there are a number of familiar ways of getting it.

The par-for-the-course golf classic was held recently in the Heritage resort at Killenard while an all-county draw at the start of the year raised €130,000 for the county board and another €600,000 for the clubs.

Times are tough, however, and though the amount of money being spent on coaching and development hasn’t been affected in the county this year, it is getting harder to balance the books.

“We work on budgets which we have to go through every year with Leinster Council but we are spending probably more on coaching and games development than we would have in any other year.

“The way you really try to save is on day-to-day expenses.

“It definitely is harder to raise the money that we need but we have to be more prudent with the money that we have. Everything that we spend is costed and tendered. We try to channel as much money as we can into the teams and development.”

More funds will be forthcoming in the coming months through the new ‘Club Laois’ initiative which was launched locally and nationally last week to coincide with the start of the senior championships.

Tyrone have long been the market leaders in this regard. Their ‘Club Tyrone’ concept has been running for donkey’s years and it has been the county’s main fundraising operation in all that time.

Patrons are asked to contribute either £500 or £1000 on an annual basis and all donations are currently being ring-fenced exclusively for the upcoming Garvaghy GAA complex for the next five years.

Kildare have also cottoned on to the idea. Club Kildare members are asked to contribute €300 in return for incentives such as personalised passes to all county games and preferential options on purchasing tickets.

Laois have taken a broadly similar stance but it isn’t all about just the finances. The hope is that supporters who sign up will be rewarded with a sense of ownership over their various representative sides.

“Laois is a small county and we already run the successful all-county draw which is €130 per ticket,” said Byrne, “so we are effectively going back to the same people and we thought that €30 was a more realistic figure.

“Our aim would be to go get in a minimum of a thousand people at €30 each and that would bring us in €30,000. Most of it would go towards coaching and games development. That is where we see the need to spend it, on the youth.”

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