The county board’s first full-time commercial manager, Maurice O’Meara, started work last week with a straightforward brief: Monetise the brand that is Kerry GAA.
Even if Dublin’s runaway money train skews the pitch somewhat, most GAA counties are invariably chasing their tails to keep income on a par with spiralling expenditure on inter-county teams. Kerry are no different, admitted football manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice.
It’s big business now. Everything costs, even in terms of the basic stuff, like feeding the team,” said Fitzmaurice.
He was speaking in the wake of comments last week inby treasurer Dermot Lynch that county team costs were spiralling out of control. Fitzmaurice interpreted that as a general comment regarding inter-county demands more than a specific reference to his own county.
“In fairness, in Kerry, we are very prudent with our finances,” he insisted. “Possibly, where we’d be slightly different from some counties is that nearly all the money spent by us goes on the players. There aren’t huge outlays on backroom teams, because most of them are volunteers. That’s a significant saving compared to other counties. The money being spent is very much focused on developing and advancing players.”
Kerry’s inter-county costs last year were a fraction over €1m, one of six counties to extend such spending into seven figures. Fitzmaurice accepts that the Kingdom are miles off Dublin in terms of corporate pulling power, and always will be, it being as much a result of geography as business.
“There’s a budget there, and you can’t have the latest craze or whatever’s the latest gadget Dublin or someone else has. That’s not the way it works in Kerry. I work closely with the county board chairman Tim Murphy. We have a set budget, and, in the time I’ve been in charge, I don’t think we’ve ever gone over budget. We’d be prudent and sensible.
I’d be conscious it is an amateur organisation and we’d have to be understanding of that. To be fair to the lads at county board level, they back everything we try to do. If we need something, they try to make it happen, but if it can’t happen, it can’t happen.
Fitzmaurice added: “I can’t ever remember looking for something and it not being given to us. The board back us. [former chairman] Patrick O’Sullivan backed us. Tim is the same. It’s a very healthy situation we have here, but then, we accept as well that you can’t look to go to Dubai for a training holiday in January. There’s reason and understanding from both sides. I’ve received 100% backing for everything I’ve tried to do since becoming manager.”
The Kerry boss — without Johnny Buckley, Shane Enright, Daithi Casey and Donnchadh Walsh for Sunday’s provincial semi-final against Colm Collins’ Clare — confirmed that team management has no plans or budget at present for a training camp. He also strongly welcomed the appointment of Maurice O’Meara, who worked as general manager at Killarney and Dooks Golf Clubs previously.
“There was a lot made when I was reappointed of the fact I referred to a three-year plan. In fact, this was the kind of stuff I was actually talking about. From the county board’s perspective, there’s a lot going on in the background to ensure we have a sustainable financial model in Kerry that can sustain the likes of the new centre of excellence at Currans and all the intercounty teams, and that’s before you go to any bells and whistles. There’s a lot of work going on to make sure it’s a sustainable model.”
The Kerry squad has returned to Fitzgerald Stadium for training ahead of Sunday’s semi-final with Clare, but Fitzmaurice expressed his delight with the new facility at Currans.
“When we were there, first, in January, it was still a work in progress, but now it’s getting closer to what it should be and there’s steps being taken every week. The pitches and the [flood] lights are excellent. There’s no last-minute messing with changes of training venue and the players are able to have their food on site. They train, they go upstairs and eat, and that saves a good bit of time. It might only be half an hour, but that’s important when these lads are giving so much.”