Con O'Callaghan scores Dublin's second goal of the game during the All Ireland semifinal against Mayo in August.
By P.J. Cunningham
Sport and business seldom mix well in the GAA. It’s why county boards and captains of industry such as Londoner Tim O’Leary, the mega-wealthy Mayo benefactor or Galway’s Supermacs Supremo Pat McDonagh invariably cross swords with the biggest Irish sporting body when it comes to matters of money.
This subject first came to light in the eighties when well-intentioned groups across a variety of counties formed Supporters Clubs with the intention of raising funds to help their teams win provincial and All Ireland honors.
All that is laudable until suddenly, as is their right in business, the people spearheading such financial ventures, want to see where their money is being spent – in other words, they want to be sure they were getting value for the money they raised.
Naturally, this leads to friction with county boards, who insists that they are appointed to look after team affairs and that any money must be channelled through them. The clear message has always been if people want to sponsor or support their counties, they should do without dictating to the local executives.
Nowadays those giving the money normally put in conditions where there are incentives for teams to do well and smaller payments if a county goes out of the championship at an early stage. Common sense in other words.
Tim O’Leary is a massive GAA fan and on foot of all the heart-breaking losses that his mother’s native county experience, he felt that if he could raise money to give the team “one or two per cent extra to get them across the line” he would be only too happy to put money in the coffers.
He insisted though that this money was not for the county board to use as extra income for its own day-to-day business but specifically to be targeted for the senior team in an attempt to get them across the line. Nothing wrong with that once there was agreement from both sides.
However once the sports-mad O’Leary - who I suggested in an earlier column might find greater satisfaction in backing London to get out of Division Four – raised governance questions surrounding money he had given and withheld a whopping quarter of a million euro until he got answers, the situation escalated. Mayo didn’t provide him with answers, a few “donkey” insults were traded in his direction via emails and then the matter retreated behind closed doors.
It has now gone to the legal jargon stage of providing whatever bits of information from county board meetings on the subject but all is not well within the county and several clubs are not happy that the right info is being fed out to the public.
Like good business men, O’Leary likes to see where his buck goes at the end of the day – in GAA, such clear-cut thinking is not always what is asked for or demanded of county board shillings.
The London lad is far from being a “donkey,” but he could have been a packhorse to deliver serious financial clout to the land of his forbears.
The relationship now appears to be broken down and a time when Mayo are building a centre of excellence in the county – something to which the multi-millionaire was keen to part fund – it is not the cleverest moment in the county’s chequered history to alienate the hand that wanted to feed it.
It has now come to the stage where the GAA in Cork Park is getting involved with the county board principals having to explain why they allowed such a situation to develop.
On the face of it, it is good manners as well as good business to be able to tell benign supporters where the money they have raised has gone.
Many years ago, I was one of a dozen or so Offaly exiles who raised a modest sum to help the county footballers, who at the time, showed glimpses of getting back to former glory. We met the county board, told them what was happening and included the manager of the time, who was outstanding in the way he made us feel part of what he was trying to do. I think the county board got the money, had fights with the manager over it and he was gone as soon as the following disappointing championship season ended.
A pity because if they had seen the intention was only to help rather than dilute their power, it could have led to further support.
From the outside, it looks like there are people in power in Mayo who want the money on one hand but don’t want to account for what they do with it on the other. In a business person’s mind, that is tantamount to throwing good money after bad and ending up with the same (non) solution to the problem which prompted the fund-raising in the first place.
Not only do I wish there were more people like Tim O’Leary around at a time when money is needed to keep counties afloat, I also wish they were given due recognition for the good they try to do. Instead he now has to warn the board that if his name is defamed behind closed doors, they will hear from his legal representatives.
By the looks of it, there will not be a happy ending to what has gone one – Mayo County Board will lose out, the senior team will lose out, the young kids in the academy will lose out and O’Leary himself, an English-born lover of the green and red colours will also lose out on a passion to see the Sam Maguire end up in Castlebar some autumn Monday night.
Have you ever noticed that spats, be they be players’ or financial rows, seldom raise their heads in Kilkenny, Kerry or Dublin? Maybe the reason for that is they put all their energies into winning All Ireland.