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Row between Mayo GAA chiefs and Supporters’ Foundation escalates


MAKING THEIR VIEWS KNOWN  Mayo GAA chairman Mike Connelly and Mayo GAA International Supporters' Foundation chairman, Tim O'Leary (left), are pictured at the Mayo GAA International Supporters' Foundation Gala in New York last May.

Mike Finnerty

A DISPUTE between Mayo GAA chiefs and the ‘Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation’ — a fund-raising group based in America — took another twist last night (Wednesday) at a meeting of County Board delegates in Castlebar.
The Foundation, which was founded earlier this year by Mr Tim O’Leary, who is also the organisation’s chairman, had circulated a statement to every GAA club delegate in the county on Tuesday evening.
The document — a copy of which was seen by The Mayo News —  was signed by ‘The Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation’ who said they had ‘ceased funding to Mayo County Board until appropriate governance structures are put in place’.
‘The lack of financial governance is at the centre of the ongoing dispute between the Foundation and the County Board, which led to the Foundation withdrawing its support’ the statement read.
The  letter from the Foundation — which was issued after what it termed ‘misinformation in circulation in relation to the breakdown of the relationship between the Foundation and the County Board’ — had also been sent to the e-mail address of the Mayo GAA secretary Dermot Butler, along with a request that it be read out at last night’s County Board meeting.
However, when asked by Ardnaree Sarsfields delegate, Johnny O’Malley if the letter was going to be read out at the meeting, Mayo GAA chairman, Mike Connelly, replied: ‘We didn’t get any letter, John, unfortunately.’
Dermot Butler added: ‘Everybody here might have got it, but I didn’t get it. . I received no correspondence from any Foundation in the last eight to ten days’.
Connelly said that he had taken ‘phone calls from different people about it’ earlier in the day: “I know a bit about it, maybe we’ll get it tomorrow, I don’t know,” he said.
“We need time to digest what’s in it.”
The Foundation statement, which had been received by the club delegates present, said that the Mayo GAA International Supporters’ Foundation ‘currently holds €250,000 in cash which it wishes to release to Mayo GAA’ — once the corporate governance terms set out in an e-mail to Mr Connelly last April were met.
A copy of this e-mail, which was signed by Mr O’Leary, was also circulated to all Mayo GAA clubs this week. It explained that Foundation funds would only be released to the Mayo GAA Board for the purposes of a number of specific projects.
The Foundation said they would only release monies raised once they saw ‘full transparency in how the funds were allocated’ and that ‘there was strong governance around each project’.
The projects outlined in the e-mail were: the proposed Mayo GAA training facility, the Mayo GAA underage Academy initiative, and other general player welfare and development initiatives for all players at levels and codes’.
Mike Connelly told last night’s meeting: “We did receive €150,000 [from Tim O’Leary] last year towards the Mayo senior team. And then we had the function [a Gala banquet organised by the Mayo GAA International Supporters’ Foundation] this year in New York which raised €250,000.
“The team stayed on an extra number of days [for a training camp in New York], which cost around €60,000, which was paid by the Foundation.
“So the plan is that we have to put a development plan in place to draw down the €250,000 from the Foundation, and Tom Reilly [Mayo GAA Commercial Manager] is doing that as we speak.
“There will be a project plan put in place to draw down the money.”
The Foundation statement said that business plans for both the Mayo GAA training facility and underage Academy projects had not been received, despite numerous requests.
The statement also referred to the aforementioned personal donation of €150,000 by Mr O’Leary to the Mayo senior team in early 2018, explaining that the donation was made on the understanding that appropriate receipts would be forthcoming to show where the money had been spent.
‘When the information finally arrived in early September 2019 (18 months later), it included copies of multiple invoices and receipts seemingly picked at random from the financial files’ the statement claimed.
Mayo GAA Board Treasurer, Kevin O’Toole, told delegates last night that he intended to reply to the Foundation’s statement at the next meeting of the County Board next month, and said it contained ‘a huge amount of misinformation’.
“Courtesy of one of the clubs, I received a copy of the e-mail this morning,” said Mr O’Toole. “I didn’t receive it officially at my e-mail address, but I received it from one of the clubs.
“And I can tell you at the County Board meeting that’s fixed for the 16th [October], I will have a line-by-line reply, in chronological order, of the moving sands of the moving sands.
“Because there are more moving sands in the Mayo Foundation than there is in the Sahara.”
The Foundation’s statement had also claimed that the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ in relation to their decision to cease funding to the Mayo GAA Board came after the County Board’s ‘refusal to provide the 10 All-Ireland Final tickets it had committed to provide for the Gala Auction [in New York last May which raised the aforementioned €250,000].
“These tickets were bought and paid for by a donor on the night of the Gala. In the end the Foundation had to pay €5,000 to the County Board to secure the 10 tickets which had a face value of €950.”
However, Mike Connelly denied this claim when he spoke to The Mayo News after last night’s meeting. “Absolutely not, absolutely not” he said, adding that the €5,000 referred to covered the cost of souvenir ‘half and half’ GAA jerseys for the New York trip that Mr O’Leary had received, as well as the All-Ireland tickets.
After a lengthy discussion, the County Board meeting concluded with a request from Johnny O’Malley of Ardnaree Sarsfields GAA club: “Can we deal with this as a matter of urgency at the next meeting? And can we check it out with this group, that you have met, as to where this correspondence came from, that’s been circulated to the clubs.”
“Okay, alright, we’ll do that,” concluded Mike Connelly.

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