Owens added that Cairde Chorcaí already has been recognised for tax clearance in America, where it intends to work with local GAA organisations, and if enough support can be garnered, it plans to work with camogie and ladies football also.
“The Cork teams are county board teams at the end of the day,” said Owens, who is chief executive of the Cork Education and Training Board. “It’s the job of the county board to provide resources for those teams, but the reality of the situation is that, as the board pointed out last year, they’re finding it difficult and it’s possibly getting to a point where it’s unsustainable.
“Supporters’ clubs have sprung up in other counties and there’s no doubt they’ve been able to offer supplementary benefits which boards weren’t able to supply. We felt there was an untapped resource in Cork that needed to be tapped, so we want to give support to the county teams - but we also want to go beyond that.
“We’d like to get involved in supporting coaching structures at underage level in the county and while Páirc Uí Chaoimh is progress, with great facilities down there, the reality is that training facilities are a huge problem for county teams. Obviously other counties have purpose-built centres of excellence, and maybe that’s the solution, but in Cork we’d be willing to explore possibilities with the likes of Cork IT and UCC, as well as maybe some of the big GAA clubs like Mallow, if you supplemented some of the facilities there.
“Munster Rugby has established itself in UL, and that being the case, is there any reason we can’t establish Cork in UCC or CIT? Leinster Rugby are in UCD. That’s our thinking but we’d look to work closely with the board on that.”
There’s been “very positive engagement” with Cork GAA officials said Owens, who was the physical trainer when Jimmy Barry-Murphy managed Cork to the 1999 All-Ireland senior hurling title and who has also trained the Cork senior footballers.
“The board has been broadly welcoming. Initially CSF Ltd, as it was known, had some contacts with the board but it’s gone beyond that now. We’ve written to the board and met senior board officials on at least two occasions, we’re teasing out where the boundaries lie.
“We’re anxious to remain independent, we’re not a sub-committee of the board, but we realise, and the board realises, that we have to work closely together.
“We intend to do so and we’ve had very positive engagement with the board. Things move on - there might have been a time when it was felt this wasn’t needed in Cork, but now it’s realised it is.”
Cairde Chorcaí evolved out of CSF, the funding body aiding the Cork senior footballers.
“I was asked by people in CSF to get involved, and my first response was, ‘lads, who’s Ted Owens to get involved, it’s more high-profile names you need’. I have a day job which comes first and didn’t feel I had the time to give it, and I also wasn’t sure about the level of support it might get from the county board, particularly as it has its own challenges with Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“I said ‘no’ two or three times but they came back and said there’d be roles for high profile guys like Billy Morgan or Jimmy Barry-Murphy, what they wanted to do was firstly to put a board together of professional people who’d bring some expertise in terms of governance, finance, contacts and so on.
“I think there’s a sense that this model has succeeded in other counties, it hasn’t torn down the structures so why should it do so here?” That said, Owens stresses that proper governance and oversight is vital for the organisation.
“First, we changed the name to Cairde Chorcaí and built a more robust governance and constitution out of the existing company structure. This is now complete, which means our accounts will continue be open to public scrutiny.
“When you’re approaching people who have been successful themselves, the last thing they want is to be associated with anything that might not be sustainable, so evolving the governance to sustain a larger fundraising initiative is something we’ve put a lot of time and energy into. We have to.
“We hope to continue to raise funds in the US, and anyone in the States wishing to support us, there are tax incentives involved in donating. The Ireland Fund is the body which facilitates that tax clearance in the US and we’ve been recognised for that clearance. We’re also in discussions with the Revenue Commissioners here. The last thing anybody wants is to be associated with something with any hint of controversy or anything like that. The company has to date and will continue to account for every penny we raise.”