Cork GAA interests finally singing from the same hymn sheet?

‘One Cork’ sees the County Board, the Páirc Stadium board, and Cáirde Chorcaí come together as a new umbrella body
Cork GAA interests finally singing from the same hymn sheet?

Eoghan Downey, Cork minor hurling captain, Tracey Kennedy, Cork GAA chairperson, Eoin Nash, Cork minor football captain, and Kevin O’Donovan, Cork GAA CEO/secretary in Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the launch of One Cork. Picture: Darragh Kane

Pulling all the expertise and vested interests into one room and agreeing on one direction and one message to deliver for one Cork GAA?

‘One Cork’ seems so blindingly obvious, one wonders why it’s only happening now, but to interrogate that would be to scratch old sores.

Better to acknowledge the fact, and the promise of a brighter future that should return control of its own stadium to Cork GAA, provide an in-house, in-built fundraising vehicle for teams and, most important of all, deliver better times for clubs and players across the county.

That, surely, has a whiff of progress.

“The goal is to ensure that every player, from the five-year-old starting out to the inter-county star, will see the benefits of the programme,” Cork CEO Kevin O’Donovan said last night.

Of course, it all comes back to resources. The burdensome debt that hangs over the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh is the preamble to virtually every Cork GAA street corner chat for years. ‘One Cork’ is about much more than meeting the €20m-odd debt that will remain after the sale of Kilbarry development land in Cork City, but the €96m facility is the engine that drives the commercial side of the business. Interesting plans will be detailed today to enhance its appeal on non-match days, for instance.

The Munster football final last Sunday is an interesting metaphor for the state of Cork GAA. Not in the disappointing defeat of its footballers to Tipperary, but in respect of the Páirc pitch itself, which retained its billiard-table similarities despite apocalyptic weather for recent games. When the original re-lay didn’t do the trick, plenty in-house said it was easily rectifiable for €100,000. Wiser counsel decided to start from scratch again.

Building relationships to the point where the County Board, the Páirc Stadium board, and Cáirde Chorcaí are all co-signatories to the new umbrella body is significant in itself. The Board executive was exposed to the business end of Michael O’Flynn’s charm during negotiations for the Liam Miller testimonial at the stadium in 2018, and it has informed, and smoothed, relationships at Stadium Board level since.

Additionally, Cáirde Chorcaí was as far outside the County Board tent as it could get when launched. Now it feels comfortable with its feet under the same table, though it will undoubtedly be looking to retain ring-fence privileges on its funding for teams and equipment – while still driving the ultimate aim of a Cork GAA centre of excellence.

The list of names who will sit on the steering group are no shrinking violets and are capable of providing the leadership and direction that can fuel badly-needed momentum now that ‘One Cork’ will regain a degree of autonomy on stadium decision-making.

GAA president John Horan believes the Cork coming together to be “ambitious and innovative”.

If it works, it may also be a template which other under-pressure counties look at.

Added Tracey Kennedy, the Cork GAA chair: 

From this point on, there is a single purpose — the success of the entire organisation with a view to benefitting all our players and all our clubs, and ensuring that the Rebel red is once again a regular feature in Croke Park.”

So what’s the main objective of the One Cork group? Essentially to ensure the requisite level of financial, advisory, and governance support is made available to Cork County Board so that it can position Cork GAA for success.

Key areas of focus will be ensuring good coaching structures and resources at grassroots level, delivering best-in-class training facilities for Cork teams at all levels and ensuring robust, appropriate levels of finance for all Cork teams to ensure the best chance of All-Ireland success. The message at today’s launch will be supporting all facets of Cork GAA – from clubs to schools, from stadia to inter-county teams.

Fanciful? There’s an aspirational tinge to every long-term plan but there are hard business heads in the room now — including several from the Páirc Stadium board, where meetings often concluded with blood on the walls. First on the agenda will be a strategy to address revenue, costs and the liability obligation of Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Paying off that €20m-plus debt to Bank of Ireland and Croke Park is something ‘One Cork’ needs to be seen to be making progress on in the next five years.

In discussions leading up to its official formation today, over 50 potential streams of revenue were identified across both Cork GAA and the stadium culminating in four commercial revenue pillars — corporate, supporters, campus and community.

One Cork won’t give a detailed breakdown of the levels expected from various income streams in advance, but the launch statement speaks of an ambitious programme of investment and commercial activity that should raise over €20 million in revenue over the next five years. They may even target clearing the Páirc debt by 2027.

The search for a corporate partner to purchase full stadium naming rights continues, but One Cork will also look at the possibility of other sponsorship agreement within its ‘world-class stadium’. Further details on this will emerge today, but the fact it is referred to as ‘The Páirc’ suggests a slight tweak in strategy.

Some argued it was a bad week to launch One Cork, with all the chatter about debt, club dissatisfaction regarding the Rebel Bounty draw, Cork hurling outside the window peering in on this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-finals, and the Munster final loss of the county’s footballers to Tipperary.

Perhaps. Others, however, might see that as an appropriate, and realistic, starting point for the long road ahead.

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