Mayo bank on getting it right

John O’Mahony’s high-profile second coming was meant to be the final piece of the Sam Maguire jigsaw but it turned into a miserable period culminating in championship defeats to Sligo and Longford.

The board succumbed to calls for a strategic plan but it blew up in their faces when the independent body charged with planning the county’s future proved too radical for the executive’s liking.

But most alarming was the MacHale Park redevelopment placing the board on the brink of financial ruin when the world economy folded. It has left them open to criticism — and plenty has come.

However for county PRO Aiden McLoughlin, a member of the financial committee, that condemnation has not taken into account the good work they have done.

“Whether that was right or wrong it is done now and is one of the finest facilities in the country,” he said.

“A decision was taken a number of years ago to redevelop MacHale Park. If that decision was not taken we wouldn’t be playing home matches there now because the ground would not be able to sustain Connacht championship matches.

“We would have ended up playing away if we did not have that facility. We know that from talking to the Connacht Council, they told us at the time that if we didn’t do it we wouldn’t be able to fix games there.”

It was a costly move. Croke Park, who had guaranteed the loans with the banks, stepped in when Ulster Bank voiced concerns about the debt.

Aiden and his colleagues had to restructure the loan and find a way to come up with €38,000 every month. The county teams’ preparations could not be affected and the senior footballers annual spend last year was €500,000 alone.

“We’re meeting our repayments and still providing the same amount of money if not more per team.

“Anything our teams have asked [for] they have been given. James Horan and the management team wanted to bring the senior squad on a training camp to Portugal and as everyone knows our finances are in dire straits but we saw it as a development of the team and had no problem with it.

“Obviously it’s going to be a burden on the county board for quite a number of years and that has got national media headlines but we have set up structures to alleviate that debt.”

Cáirde Mhaigheo was the first part of that plan. Set up to incorporate the Mayo Supporters’ Clubs from Dublin, London, America and the county itself it initially met with criticism from the Dublin supporters’ body.

But its targets of €150,000 in fundraising and the sale of 1,000 tickets a year are being realised.

“In total between the people that bought directly from us and the ones bought through Croke Park direct we would have in the region of 1,200.

“We were given that facility by Croke Park to sell that many, other counties might not have had that but we had to submit a five-year plan to Croke Park on raising financing. They looked at it, they saw the Cáirde Mhaigheo venture and liked the idea and supported the idea. If they weren’t happy there was no way it would have gone through.”

Selling county board tickets is also helping.

At the other end they have found it difficult to cut costs. Winning the FBD League home final comes with a health warning. For the second year in a row the board have to pay for a trip to New York after the season.

The senior footballers have asked can they help raise some funds but the board told them to concentrate on their football instead.

And at the moment that is working. They are managing the debt. But if they falter, the critics have more than enough ammunition. The most obvious question will be why didn’t they accept the strategic plan committee’s proposals to manage the debt with a commercial director who would tackle the issue allowing the board concentrate on helping the team win an All-Ireland.

“I’m not going to say the Mayo County Board do everything right and we’re the flagship county and everyone should follow us.

“With regards the plan, in hindsight things weren’t handled as well as they should have been but the slant that was taken on it was wrong. There were certain high-profile recommendations made and there was no way we could have ever have gone with them.”

In the end it will be worth it though.

“In the last couple of years I’ve gone around to grounds around the country and Croke Park is the only one that would rival it. I’d hate to see the facilities our team would be in if MacHale Park wasn’t there.

“If you’re talking about benchmarking and making Mayo a top-four team we have a top-four ground without a shadow of a doubt. It will be a burden but not one for the players or managers.

“With all the bad press we’ve got we’ve never missed a repayment. The tank was running low for a while but we’re still able to meet our day-to-day running costs.”

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