If you were a Cork club delegate going to tonight’s annual GAA convention at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, what questions would you ask based on the revelations in yesterday’s Irish Examiner?
Q: Where did that new €110m figure we heard about yesterday come from?
A: Was anyone on the executive aware of that figure, or any figure even in the same parish or (coughs) ballpark? There was an awareness — or more precisely, an acceptance — that there’d be an overrun on costs, but was anyone aware that it could be on that level? Was that figure disclosed at any stage to anyone on the executive? If so, when? Why wasn’t it shared more widely?
Q: The overrun is now a matter of discussion all over the country: what happens when it’s investigated?
A: Would the processes associated with all elements of the redevelopment, from planning to completion, stand up to robust examination by a body such as the Public Accounts Committee? As delegates can we be assured that that is the case?
Q: How does the new price tag affect my club?
A: Now for the brass tacks. For months, if not years, every club secretary has had a nagging worry the day will dawn when an envelope drops into the letter box starting with ‘A chara’ and ending with ‘please forward remittance to the above address’.
There are plans for concerts and land sales, for naming rights and premium tickets, but clubs from Casletownbere to Youghal will all wonder if, or when, a levy will be placed on them to help allay the debt. It has been done in other counties and must surely come up when options are being considered.
Q: How does the new price tag affect the county team?
A: All parties from Ballintemple to Dublin have played the same tune on this one — that what is being done to reduce the stadium debt has no impact on the budgets for the intercounty sides, and the senior hurling and football sides in particular.
With that in mind, has there been any issue in the last twelve months for either senior team whether in matters as immediate and basic as paying for food after training to broader questions such as potential budgetary constraints being signposted ahead of the 2019 season?
Q: Who can we ask about the stadium’s financial woes?
A: The board of directors of the company which is to run Pairc Ui Chaoimh — Stáid Cois Laoi — is to meet on Monday evening (and may even issue a detailed statement on the stadium cost overrun). Is that where delegate queries regarding costs and debt should go? How will that board report to delegates? How will information on the stadium be conveyed, and to whom?
Q: What are the implications of the pitch not being up to standard?
A: At the end of its life as a stadium the quality of the old Pairc Ui Chaoimh playing surface was terrific, but that wasn’t always the way. Older players will remember the tendency of the covered stand side — the shaded area — to get extremely soggy. Now the pitch is to be replaced, what does that mean for the 2019 season?
One of the key elements to the stadium returning to full health is decent attendances at games such as the All-Ireland quarter-final double-header last summer. Can anyone be sure that such games will be definitely marked down for decision in Pairc Ui Chaoimh next year? If the Cork hurlers and footballers were playing a significant knock-out championship game on a pitch acknowledged as sub-standard, would any delegate be happy with that?
Q: Will Kevin O’Donovan be able to fulfil the duties of a secretary/CEO?
A: A new dawn breaks on Monday with Kevin O’Donovan taking his place as secretary/CEO, replacing Frank Murphy, who has been in place for 45 years. With Croke Park effectively taking over the running of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, how will that affect a significant part of O’Donovan’s remit (specifically, “serving as an ex officio Director of Páirc Uí Chaoimh and managing the relationship between the County Committee and Páirc Uí Chaoimh”)?
Q: Where does Cairde Chorcai fit into this?
A: The funding organisation, which is only just up and running to general acclaim, is focused on games development, coaching and facilities — but Pairc Ui Chaoimh is expressly not the kind of facility involved. Will Cairde Chorcai come under pressure to contribute to bringing down the Páirc debt or to county team running costs? Neither option is part of its remit, but can delegates be sure that its revenues are ring-fenced for their intended targets?
Q: What are the implications for a centre of excellence?
A: Though there may well be county boards elsewhere which are now regretting privately their commitment to large-scale developments which need to be sustained financially all year round, the need for a centre of excellence has been raised in Cork by many respected voices.
The county’s dual commitments and sheer number of intercounty teams bolster that argument, certainly. Will the county board continue to pursue the centre of excellence option, however? Would it consider a partnership with UCC, for instance? And how damaging to any negotiations are the recent revelations about cost overruns in the stadium?
Q: What are the implications for the brand?
A: Anathema though it may be to the hardened adherent to the amateur ethos, generating revenue is central to the GAA’s central mission, games promotion. It’s therefore important that the Cork County Board be able to maximise revenues, but how will the cost overruns affect its ability to create commercial partnerships and to sell the stadium’s naming rights?
With that in mind, have there been any potential partnerships explored with telecommunications firms regarding the stadium’s connectivity? Is a commercial manager such as those in Dublin, Wexford and Kerry an option that has been considered?
And finally: why is the overrun so big?