BACK at the very fag-end of 2017, Roscommon manager Kevin McStay revealed he was struggling to make savings on the cost of the senior football team.
He estimated the average cost per week at €15,000. It caused mild alarm and since then the revelations around the bloated figures spent at inter-county level have flowed. Recently, it was revealed that the entire expenditure of inter-county action stands just shy of €30 million per annum.
It’s an incredible figure on the face of it and — as pointed out by recent GAA President candidate Jarlath Burns — an unsustainable model.
As the culture of Gaelic Games evolves, so too do the expectations of players further down the food chain. The grim reality now is that success now requires a considerable financial outlay.
Take this example. On November 11th 2018, Ruairí Óg Cushendall beat Ballycran in the Ulster club final hurling. Their All-Ireland semi-final against Galway champions St Thomas’ was 98 days away. But Ruairí Óg have no floodlights and had to go on a tour to gain access to municipal and other clubs’ facilities. They visited Munster for a coaching day with Kieran Kingston and played challenge matches against a variety of teams in Leinster.
All that added up to a lot of bus trips, hotel stays, three square meals a day, hydration and outside help.
Totted up, it worked out as an astonishing £357 (€408.66) per day.
“I know it cost my club £35,000 (€40,064.50) to play one match last year. It was a massive expense to put on a rural club,” revealed Cushendall legend Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton.
There are a litany of costs now associated with club teams, from travel, pitch hire, medical bills, physio, strength and conditioning experts, psychologists and other service providers. Advancements in technology and sports science has added to the burden with performance coaches among the human cost and hardware items such as radio mics, GPS tracking systems and statistics packages.
As challenging as that sounds, it’s all set aside from the essentials of a club; affiliation fees, player insurance, rates on premises, depreciation, floodlights, equipment and a thousand other costs.
Such is the variance of each club’s costs, of the people and policy within, no definitive like-for-like comparison can be made.
Slaughtneil Robert Emmets, like many in Ulster operate a ‘one-club’ model, where camogie is not a separate wing, so their costs are all factored in together. Over the past decade they have been involved in two All-Ireland senior football finals, their hurlers have been in three of the last four All-Ireland hurling semi-finals and their camogs have played in the last four All-Ireland finals, winning three.
Their costs to run the teams top £100,000 (€114470). But, they have their own gym. They have floodlit facilities that — for the most part but not always — hold up well throughout the winter although they have had to use other pitches.
Dublin’s Cuala won two All-Ireland club hurling titles in 2017 and 2018, but they are a vastly different set-up to Slaughtneil.
“To run the adult hurling section, with four teams, you are talking €90-100k a year,” says hurling board Chairman, Barry O’Halloran.
That’s since they stopped winning. When they had to bridge the winter gap before the season was squashed tight, O’Halloran estimates the cost of the All-Ireland winning seasons at €120,000.
Membership of Dublin clubs are through the roof compared to large parts of the rest of the country.
A rural club in Ulster might charge £20 (€22.89) for adult membership and the average figure would scarcely reach over 300.
“Just as a starting point, we would have around 3,000 members at the moment. That’s climbing. The projections for that over the next ten years is 4,500. Where we are going to actually house all that, I don’t know to be honest with you,” admits O’Halloran.
“You would have adult membership rates, rates for the academy, adult-playing, adult non-playing and it goes right all the way up to €255 if you are a full adult playing member.”
Cuala are structured differently to most GAA clubs. They are split into adult hurling and adult football, the juvenile section, an academy and a camogie and ladies’ football section. Each individual section is responsible for running their own show. As a starting point, the hurlers, with their roughly 100 players and four adult teams, would receive a 25% dividend of the membership fund.
But they differ dramatically from Slaughtneil.
“Basically, Cuala own nothing. That’s the simple reality,” says O’Halloran. They have to rely on the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council to play their home games at Shanganagh Park in Shankill. There is no dressing room, just a couple of containers to get togged out. There is a clubhouse in Dalkey with plans to upgrade it. The senior hurlers train regularly at a neighbouring club and pay €180 for pitch and dressing rooms, extra if meeting rooms are required.
Down in Kerry, it’s the pull of home that can have the bean counters busy.
Réalt na Mara, Cromane, have two players living in London, who commute home every weekend to play for their club: “So we cover their expenses,” says club Chairman, JP McCarthy.
“We give 75/80% of it. Because in fairness to the guys, they are coming home and their primary aim in coming home is to play for the club, but they are not just coming home for that either.”
They are among the lucky ones to have been able to cut their costs. In 2018, it cost €40,000 to run the club. Last year, they had that down to €35,000.
Their eyes must water at the operational costs of three-in-a-row All-Ireland football champions Corofin.
“In terms of hard cash figures, we would probably spend over the season, with 17 teams between adult teams to underage and to a lesser extent ladies teams. You are probably looking at something like €300,000 a year,” says club Treasurer, John Raftery.
“That’s everything, lights, pitch care, repairs, bus hire, catering for teams. Everything comes up to that.”
Their kind of excellence does not come cheap. Their management however are locals and they don’t have an outlay in the same way others may have, but they invest in people.
“Take a simple thing like radio mics. We bought them five years ago,” explains Raftery. “I suppose more importantly, the information that the management get from the statisticians or dieticians and that kind of stuff, once it has been used by the management team and it is used, then obviously it is working. We have trophies to show for it. They are not asking for something that is not of use to the club.”
They use what they can from their resources. Former player Mike Comer has a gym in Tuam, and he charges just a nominal fee while he looks after their Strength and Conditioning work.
When they have to spend money, there is a cuteness to it. Once they get into Connacht finals or Croke Park, they know they are not going to be playing on boggy surfaces, so they decamp to the Connacht Centre of Excellence in Ballyhaunis to get used to a slick surface.
But while they are there, they will require the use of a pitch, dressing rooms, a meeting room and bring in caterers to feed their players, a good proportion of which live and work in Galway city.
Where does all this money come from? The answers are as varied as they are surprising. The lion’s share of Ballymun Kickhams’ income comes from the mobile phone mast on their premises.
Local sponsorship and different club ‘Patronage’ schemes are springing up and developing all the time. Success makes it easier to attract blue-chip companies but you may be surprised to learn that Cuala’s much-heralded sponsorship deal with Chinese Technology giants Huawei is not nearly as lucrative as the one they have in place with pharmaceutical company Amgen.
The good old club lotto is still maintaining most clubs but the trend has been towards ever more creative ways of fundraising. Corofin do an event every year, but every second year they go big and had a Strictly Come Dancing event last year.
In Tyrone, the Augher St Macartan’s club had a ‘Night At The OsKaRs’ whereby locals acted out famous scenes of popular movies and they held a mock Oscars ceremony in a Monaghan hotel, in a novel idea in November.
More and more clubs that build gym facilities are using them as a money-generating enterprise, that has the happy coincidence of dragging people on the periphery of the club back in.
Raising Corofin-levels of funds however, carries serious pressure.
“It is,” agrees Raftery. “But part of me has a lot of admiration for smaller clubs. That may not get to a county final every year but they still have to pay the lights, affiliations, player insurance and the other things that all the clubs have to pay. They probably have a much harder job to do than we do. You go back to the silverware thing. We have it on the table.”
Indeed they do.