Clubs can be a pow­er­ful force if not left im­po­tent

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - JOHN GREENE

THE modern face of the GAA was laid bare in the most ex­treme man­ner imag­in­able in the last week. That a club as small as Mul­li­nalaghta could win a se­nior pro­vin­cial ti­tle — beat­ing one of the coun­try’s big­gest clubs in the process — was the most heart-warm­ing GAA story of the year, sur­pass­ing even that of Lim­er­ick’s Al­lIre­land hurl­ing suc­cess.

Mul­li­nalaghta showed the art of what is still pos­si­ble in the GAA. It re­minded us of where the As­so­ci­a­tion’s true heart is. In many ways, Mul­li­nalaghta’s suc­cess is not that they won the Le­in­ster ti­tle, but that they have a team at all. That’s the real vic­tory.

There is noth­ing hol­low or in­sin­cere in the Mul­li­nalaghta story and how it in­volves an en­tire com­mu­nity, be­cause it is through the GAA that this small half-par­ish is show­ing its de­ter­mi­na­tion to sur­vive against the odds.

Any­one who went to Tul­lam­ore to see last Sun­day’s match against Kil­macud Crokes think­ing Mul­li­nalaghta did not have a chance had not been pay­ing at­ten­tion to what the club has been do­ing in Long­ford, and in Le­in­ster, over the last three years. Nor did they fully un­der­stand the power of what has driven them to such ex­tra­or­di­nary heights.

It may be an easy thing to say, but it is still true that other com­mu­ni­ties will take heart from what the Long­ford club has achieved. That’s why their story has res­onated so much. And why the GAA needs to be at the bar­ri­cades guard­ing against the de­struc­tion of ru­ral Ire­land.

Now, Mul­li­nalaghta are Le­in­ster cham­pi­ons, but in 10 years’ time, they may not even have a team.

And if they do have a team, what sort of GAA will they be part of ? Be­cause the dan­gers fac­ing the As­so­ci­a­tion and its core be­liefs were ex­posed with the ex­tra­or­di­nary reve­la­tions in re­cent days around the cost over-run of the re­de­vel­op­ment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, be­tween €25m and €30m higher than the orig­i­nal pro­jected cost of al­most €80m.

The GAA likes to claim it is a demo­cratic or­gan­i­sa­tion, but this is of­ten just a badge of con­ve­nience to hide be­hind. Re­peated at­tempts by some del­e­gates to Cork County Board to get an­swers to ques­tions around the cost of the sta­dium project were side-stepped, mak­ing a mock­ery of the idea that the grass­roots has any mean­ing­ful in­put to de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

In July 2017, a se­ries of ques­tions seek­ing to es­tab­lish the up-to-date sit­u­a­tion on the cost of the project were emailed by a club sec­re­tary to the county board. Two in par­tic­u­lar stood out: 1: What is the ex­pected cost of the over­all devel­op­ment? If, as re­ported, it is sig­nif­i­cantly in ex­cess of the amount of €78m pre­sented to the County Com­mit­tee as be­ing the fi­nal cost, how did the ad­di­tional costs arise? 2: If there have been cost over­runs, why have the County Com­mit­tee not been up­dated on these over­runs over the past eigh­teen months?

The ques­tions were not an­swered, although the board sub­se­quently up­dated clubs in Novem­ber that the cost had risen. There was no sense, though, of the scale of the over-run at that time. Ru­mours have been cir­cu­lat­ing in re­cent months that the sit­u­a­tion was se­ri­ous.

“It be­came clear in the mid­dle of the year that the amount spent on the sta­dium way ex­ceeded what peo­ple thought,” Croke Park sta­dium di­rec­tor Peter McKenna told the Ir­ish Ex­am­iner last week.

Who, though, did it be­come ‘clear’ to? Be­cause it cer­tainly wasn’t the Cork GAA fam­ily.

Asked by jour­nal­ist Michael Moyni­han what had caused the over-run, McKenna said that was “a dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer”.

His next re­mark was damn­ing: “Build­ing projects are no­to­ri­ous for over-runs but projects can be brought in on time and on bud­get. It’s about hav­ing good peo­ple and good con­trols.”

There were those in Cork who tried to ex­er­cise some form of con­trol by seek­ing an­swers to ques­tions but their con­cerns were not ad­e­quately ad­dressed. Clubs must be able to hold county boards to ac­count but all over the coun­try this is sim­ply not hap­pen­ing. In part, it must be said that there is an ap­a­thy among clubs when deal­ing with their county boards. They have been worn down by not be­ing lis­tened to, and also by their own day-to-day con­cerns.

The hubris of county ex­ec­u­tives is an is­sue too — there’s of­ten a sense that board of­fi­cers adopt a ‘we know best’ at­ti­tude, and the debt now run up by Cork County Board is just the lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of that.

The way the sit­u­a­tion in Cork was al­lowed to es­ca­late with­out ap­par­ent over­sight, and with clubs frozen out of the reck­on­ing, is the lat­est alarm bell to be rung in the GAA.

McKenna and his team, which man­ages Croke Park, have now taken over the run­ning of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, say­ing that ad­dress­ing the “fi­nan­cial is­sues” is a 10 to 15-year project. For Mul­li­nalaghta, and many oth­ers, just keep­ing the show on the road is a week-to-week one.

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