Cork City's budget has been redrawn after being on the brink earlier this year

Cork City's budget has been redrawn after being on the brink earlier this year
Cork City return to league action in early August. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

BEING treasurer of a League of Ireland club might sound like a glamorous role but it’s unlikely that there would be too long a queue of people offering to take on Conor Hallahan’s duties.

By day, the 25-year-old UCC commerce graduate works for Crowleys DFK as an accountant; the rest of the week, he is charged with overseeing the finances of Foras, the supporters’ trust which runs Cork City.

A City fan since 2004, he became a Foras member in 2014, attending meetings from the start, ultimately leading to the suggestion that he should up his involvement. With only the current chairman Declan Carey carrying on from 2018-19, there were vacancies arising.

“After the 2018 season, in around November I was talking to a few people and they were saying how there were going to be four or five spots opening up and if I was interested in putting my name forward,” he says.

“I went away and thought about it and I decided to give it a go, not expecting that I’d get stuck into what I did get stuck into!
“Out of the six of us there now, Declan was the only one there prior to January 2019 and he was only there for a year before that.

“It was a massive turnover, it’s not good for Foras that so many changed in one go. It’s something that might have to be looked at again.

“In another way then, with five new people coming into an organisation and having a fresh look at things, it probably wasn’t a bad thing, either, especially with some of the decisions we had to make in 2019.”

Given his background, he was the natural choice for treasurer, seeing the details behind the bare numbers.

“You go along to the AGMs and you see two million or two and a half million coming in,” he says.

“It’s not until you get stuck in then that you see the workings in the background behind all of the figures, how detailed it is and how much is going on at the one time.

“To be fair, there’s a good set-up there now so it’s not overpowering, there’s not a ridiculous workload on top of it. It’s like anything, once you become familiar with it, it becomes second nature to you. We introduced new financial controls and procedures earlier this year. They give us greater oversight and give our professional staff responsibility for their own departments.”

It was a real baptism of fire for the new members of the board, culminating in February of this year with the club coming close to extinction, but for a deal agreed with Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings for City to surrender sell-on clauses relating to Seán Maguire and Kevin O’Connor.

“From February 2019-February 2020, it was a case of firefighting for the whole 12 months,” Hallahan says.

“It was ‘Get over this crisis,’ and ‘Get that couple of days’ breathing space,’ if even it was a couple of days. It was tackle the next challenge and just get to the end of the year. We had Win A Gaff going on so it was a case of hoping that that would pay off.

“There was no time to switch off, it was crazy stuff. Ultimately, it’s well-documented at this stage, we were hours, minutes, from going out of existence.

“If it wasn’t for the contribution of Mr Hemmings, we wouldn’t have a football club today. It was really a case of life or death, until the Wednesday before the Shelbourne game.

“We didn’t know or not if we were going to be in Turner’s Cross on the Friday night.”

Cork City return to league action in early August. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cork City return to league action in early August. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Thankfully, disaster was avoided and City regrouped, with a sustainable budget for 2020 put in place. Ultimately, is a fan-owned model viable for a club that wants to progress?

“The model we went in with this year with the budget was something that we felt was realistic,” Hallahan said.

“We set income at a level that we felt we could achieve and possibly even surpass if things went our way.

“The expenditure is set based on what you bring in, so we felt it was a fairly low-risk budget. At the time, we couldn’t afford to take any risks, another slip and that was it.

“At that level, it is sustainable for a supporters-owned club in terms of the income we could generate. Obviously, you can add fundraising to that, like we saw last year.

“In terms of going to another level, you are restricted in terms of what you can bring in. There is a ceiling on gate receipts and merchandise and we feel that the current budget isn’t a million miles off that.”

Of course, the projections were rendered somewhat moot by the Covid-19 pandemic and for the board, it must have felt like a bad joke after all that had gone on. City had to focus on the commercial side of things, but Hallahan is glad that there is football on the horizon.

“It was like déjà vu, really,” he says, “we were just after getting over one problem and here was another one.

“It was one thing for us but, for the lads and Neale especially, they were looking like they were getting together and could push on and go in the right direction on the pitch.

“In a way it’s like we’ve been operating as a merchandise outlet for a few months.

“The most important thing now is that we do get back on the pitch. The first team are back and the academy teams are due to get their schedules soon enough and the women’s league have a restart date.

“It’s good to have everyone back, even if it is a shortened season.”

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