On a week when the national finances were very much at the forefront of the public mind, it was somewhat appropriate that the Offaly county convention took place last night, with the finances of GAA activity in Offaly as one of the central issues.
While the 2011 deficit of €69,178 is an improvement on last year's position, not unlike the nation, it remains unsustainable that the county continues to run at a loss. However, just as many economists and indeed vested interests are on record as stating that austerity simply doesn't work for Ireland as a country - even though the absence of a realistic alternative to that strategy is rather glaring - it can be said for certain that austerity is not the answer for the administration of Offaly county affairs either.
Since this paper went to press before the beginning of last night's convention, we cannot accurately report what was said. However we can make an educated guess that is unlikely to be too far from the mark. Some delegates will have referred to the huge cost of running county teams, and blame players and managers for taking too much out of the system. Other delegates will have pointed out the huge drain on finances that is the refurbishment of O'Connor Park, while others discussed how sponsorship money is harder to come by and that the business community who stand to benefit from all the local games should step up to the plate to a greater degree, a view that is more than a little unfair to a local community that has been very generous with limited means.
Of course any financial venture should be keen to eliminate waste from the system, whether a sporting body like Offaly GAA or indeed a private business. However, there comes a point where there simply is no more waste, and cutting costs further simply runs the risk of sending the overall product into a downward spiral.
The Offaly county board has the responsibility of promoting Gaelic games within the county, to both the adults and the children that live here. It's important to make the distinction between that goal and the goal of on-field success, which should be a by-product but not the main target of the county board at the start of the year. A successful county board will provide plenty of activity for young and old players alike, and will do their best to ensure that the administration of games is carried out as smoothly as possible. If they do this, success on the field should follow.
It's a matter for much debate as to whether or not the current administrators are doing well in that regard - that debate would fill several volumes of this publication if we were to go into it in full. What we can say, however, is that in terms of spending, there isn't a lot of waste still out there - the low hanging fruit has all been picked. Running successful underage academies and training is crucial but it is also expensive, and there is no way around that. Equally at senior level, players and management should not profit from their time playing with Offaly and should only be reimbursed for expenses actually incurred; however, they should also be treated with respect and not left out of pocket, even temporarily.
What we can also say with certainty is that there has been very little by way of innovative fundraising done within the county. The O'Connor Park project has provided the county with a wonderful facility and there are plenty of games within the premises, but there are other ways that such a fine facility could be exploited, in terms of concerts, private parties, meetings and conferences. Certain changes would have to be made to enable this, but surely some of what is being done at Croke Park could be done in Tullamore also, and should be. A central location in a town with a rail line and about ten minutes from the M6 is a huge asset that should not be ignored.
In the run-up to Christmas, the lack of innovative merchandising is also a disappointment. Of course it's only fair that official replica jerseys have a reasonable life span so as not to be seen to bleed parents eager to keep their kids in the current kit. However, for a child that has a current Offaly tricolour jersey and isn't short on tracksuits, there is no opportunity for a grandparent, godparent or even Santa himself to pick out an alternative present to place under the tree for Christmas morning.
Yearbooks, board games, posters, schoolbags and DVDs are just some of the options that could have been made available for this month, and indeed could be made available for sale on site in the Saturdays leading up to Christmas. The option to purchase season tickets should also be publicised a lot more heavily, particularly on the Offaly GAA website.
For adult enthusiasts, the Michael Duignan autobiography and the 'Faithful Pioneers' book detailing the 1960/61 achievements will be popular as stocking fillers, however there is so much more that could be done in this regard too. The local media all have plenty of match reports from championship games in the county during the year. An anthology of all these would surely be easily negotiated and very popular among players preparing for next year and supporters with a keen interest in games.
Of course all of these small projects would require plenty of time and execution, but no matter who is returned from last night's convention to manage the affairs of Offaly GAA next year, the practice of continually downscaling to meet existing resources is simply not viable and needs to be eradicated. Too many people in Ireland look at a discrepancy between income and expenditure and can't see beyond reducing expenditure.
Equally, when looking at the income side of the ledger, they cannot see beyond the old reliables like sponsorship, draws and lottos, which while important, are ultimately asking the public to pay for something in the hope, rather than the certainty, that they will get a return. As a county and a sporting organisation, the GAA in Offaly has a lot to offer - 2012 would be a great year to start leveraging that fact and to start giving something rather than bemoaning the fact that goodwill income isn't covering all the bills.