TRYING TIMES Connacht GAA Council Secretary John Prenty. Pic: Sportsfile
Connacht GAA CEO John Prenty reflects on an extraordinary year
MF: How do you reflect on how the Connacht championship ran off?
JP: We were happy with the way it went. Obviously there were people who weren’t happy that they couldn’t go to games, including extended members of panels, County Board officers and supporters, but we ran a very tight ship.
We only allowed in working journalists, 40 people with each competing team, including the squads of 26 players, and we kept the circle of people working at the matches very tight too. We had the same core group in Carrick-on-Shannon, Hyde Park and Pearse Stadium for the final. We had no local involvement at all, just a group of stewards we put together ourselves.
I think it worked well, we had no complaints, no incidents, and it seemed to run off well.
MF: Mayo captain Aidan O’Shea wasn’t allowed to keep the Nestor Cup after the Connacht Final win over Galway. Can you explain the thinking behind that?
JP: When the first lockdown happened the GAA established a ‘Covid Committee’ which included a number of very high-ranking medical personnel, and they drew up the roadmap for how things were going to work.
Guidelines were put in place around the club games coming back during the summer and the same for the restart of the inter-county season.
So we worked to that roadmap from day one.
Some of the scenes that happened at County Finals, in particular, around the presentation of cups, and the aftermath of the cup presentation, did attract attention.
There was a rise in Covid cases in some of those club’s catchment areas so the GAA’s ‘Covid Committee’ took the decision that for the inter-county competitions, no cups would be presented.
And we stuck to that.
I know it’s a nice thing for a team to get their photograph taken with the cup, but those photographs are banned at the moment anyway because you can’t socially distance properly for them. The same goes for players congregating in dressing-rooms with a cup.
It’s probably not a nice thing to be done, but it had to be done.
MF: Are you happy that the GAA championships going ahead was the right call?
JP: Months ago when we discussed this first, I couldn’t see the possibility of games going ahead without spectators. But as the weeks went by, and people got more fed up being at home at weekends with nothing to do, I think the fact that we came with an inter-county championship lifted the spirit of the nation at a time when people could hardly go outside the door. From that point of view it has worked well.
Unfortunately, there was one county [Sligo], in our own province, that couldn’t play in the championship. But they took the right decision for the health and wellbeing of all their players.
People are looking forward already to the games coming up next weekend, and there’s no doubt that there’s great excitement around towns in Mayo that the county football team won the Connacht championship. And it would have been the same in Galway.
I think you can see a noticeable lift in so many people’s moods.
MF: From a financial point of view, what has no crowds at games cost Connacht GAA?
JP: We had an FBD competition and an Under-20 championship in dire weather, neither of which brought in anything like what they brought in the previous year. Then we had no minor championship, no club championships, and no gate receipts from the senior inter-county championship.
I would have predicted months ago that if Mayo and Galway were in the Connacht Final, and there were no spectators at any games for the year, that it would cost us [Connacht GAA] €1.3m to €1.4m. That’s what it has cost us, before you factor in the club championships which would bring in somewhere between €90,000 and €150,000 depending on how popular it was. But that’s where we are.
MF: How will those losses impact on Connacht GAA in 2021?
JP: I’d have to say that I was disappointed with the €9m the GAA got from the Government.
Because the GAA as a whole put a lot of time and effort, from every single club going back to last March and April, into keeping local communities going.
I think there’s a value in that that we probably weren’t adequately compensated for.
So what it means is that we have an inter-county championship, and we know the cost of training inter-county teams. So most of the money the GAA got from the Government is going to go into that cost.
What we’re going to do next year, we’re working on that. The Executive meet [remotely] three or four times a week, but it’s a challenge. A huge challenge.
Because there’s no prospect of spectators being back at matches until next April or May at the earliest, and maybe not at all. So Connacht GAA are looking at all avenues at the moment.
MF: You said previously that the lockdown was an opportunity for the GAA to make changes. Has that happened?
JP: We’ve cut back a good bit in terms of the preparation [county teams] are doing. I don’t think there’s any team doing more than coming together twow or three times a week, and most of them have stuck to the panels of 32 players.
I think it’s been an opportunities for counties to sit back and say, ‘Look, we’ve been excessive in what we were doing up to now. But there’s a pathway there for us now in the future’.
Look, the same amount of money is just not going to be there, counties are not going to be getting the same grants from Croke Park, they won’t be getting the same revenue from the inter-county championships or club championships, although some counties minimised their gate receipt losses from streaming games. And some counties made significant gains in that regard. There’s an opportunity now to work on making those services even better for 2021.