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Reality bites for Mayo GAA community

Restructuring and fund-raising needed to help Mayo meet debt

Edwin McGreal

DELEGATES at the Mayo County Board meeting last Monday night knew that something was up. They had heard that the Executive of the Board had been summoned to Ballyhaunis earlier that day to discuss their financial difficulties with Croke Park officials.
One person present in Ballyhaunis described the exchanges as ‘hot and heavy’, but added that there had only been one winner. And it wasn’t the Mayo GAA Board.
What followed at the County Board meeting was as full a disclosure of information as this reporter can ever remember at such a gathering. Under instructions to inform the clubs of the state of their financial position, the Board officers issued each delegate with an A4 sheet entitled, ‘Capital Expenditure Account for McHale Park Development’.
There, in black and white was, at last, what many people had been querying for some time: the exact terms of the loans, the costs incurred, and the outstanding money owed for the McHale Park, Castlebar redevelopment.
The total cost of the project could easily be calculated — €18,252,388. While members of the press were being briefed in an adjoining room on some nuances of the situation before the discussion started, delegates had an opportunity chance to take in the figures.
When the floor was opened to questions, seven club delegates and three other individuals spoke. So did County Board Secretary Seán Feeney, Chairman Paddy McNicholas and Treasurer JP Lambe.
A quick consensus emerged on the need for the restructuring of the loans.
As things stand, the Board could be liable for annual payments of €833,000 over the next 12 years as they have been forced to start making continuous payments off the principle of the loan.
Kilmaine GAA club delegate Kevin McDonnell said that while fund-raising efforts needed to be examined, what was crucial was getting the loan restructured.
Mayo GAA Secretary Seán Feeney concurred.
“There’s no chance of getting any more money out of Croke Park but, you’re right, we will need to get that loan restructured,” said Feeney who would be retiring from his full-time position less than four hours later, on the occasion of his 65th birthday.
Former Central Council delegate Paddy Muldoon said that the Board would be in a much stronger position had they secured a €3m lotto grant which the then Minister for Sport, Martin Cullen, had ‘promised’ them.
Kevin McDonnell added that the Board needed to look at ways of making the McHale Park complex pay for itself, such as hosting parties and similar events in the rooms located in the stand.
Discussion turned to the possibility of having concerts at the venue but Chairman, Paddy McNicholas, said that three promoters had been approached, but to no avail.
Tourmakeady’s Kevin O’Toole, who has allowed his name go forward for the position of County Board Secretary at the Annual Convention, said that the repayments can be made.
“There’s a lot of doom and gloom here. But we’ve a turnover of €1.5m a year and I’d like to look at our costings. If we are able to cut our costs by ten per cent, that’s €150,000 straightaway. We have to look at the likes of the season ticket too and build it up. Those figures are attainable, it is not a huge task,” he said.
Castlebar Mitchels delegate Brendan Byrne said that it was important that the season ticket was pushed actively and that clubs needed to buy into the McHale Park project, which he said wasn’t the case up to now.
Paddy McNicholas also said that it was important to look at things positively.
“What we need to do is combination of small things and big ventures. It is not all doom and gloom. We have the stadium here, we should be proud of it. If we didn’t go and build it when we did, I guarantee you it wouldn’t have been built at all.
“It is only in the last month that a report from Croke Park’s Infrastructural Committee in regards to health and safety, one county’s ground capacity was reduced by 50 per cent. We were passed for a capacity of 32,000. The day we put 32,000 into it, we’ll be very proud.”
Croke Park gave Mayo County Board two weeks from last Monday to come up with a business plan that outlined fresh ways of raising revenue for the loan repayments.
However, Seán Feeney told The Mayo News last night that more time may be required.