THIS week two years ago, representatives from county boards across the country were invited to Croke Park for a National Fixtures seminar to discuss the ‘Club Window’ in April, and how they were preparing to deal with it.
Opinions on all sides were expressed and, while significant information was gathered, any meaningful data on April couldn’t be collated until the delegates met again in May.
Two years on, and all the data and emotional feedback suggests that April is not working.
No matter how hard the GAA have tried, running off some fixtures — especially just one round — almost feels tokenistic in many counties.
Still, at least April felt like a starting point for clubs, even if that often meant just one match, before most club players went into cold storage, or went travelling, before playing again.
Now? Every club player in the country would give anything to be able to play just one match.
Every GAA player in the country, at club and inter-county level, is unsure where they stand, or at what point there will be a return to action, and how that format will look or work.
It is a strange and worrying time for everyone, especially when the gates of all clubs are closed, and the locals no longer have access to the biggest social hub in their community.
And that emotional and personal void has added to the concern in the vacuum.
The immediate priority for many people in the coming months will be to try and get their jobs or businesses back.
Health, happiness, and everybody’s safety are the only things that really matter, but nobody knows how difficult it will be to pick up the pieces.
It will be a similar experience for most clubs. Getting the club back up and running is the only bottom line but, as in any club, there is always a very definite bottom line — the financial day-to-day running of the club.
At the moment, no club is spending money.
Yet when clubs do get back up and running again, what financial state will they be in?
Normally at this time of the year, many clubs plan, organise, and run fundraising events for the season ahead.
These events range from anything to golf classics to quiz nights to dance events.
Championship preview nights have become really popular in recent years; a host of big names show up, are interviewed by an MC, take questions from the audience before giving their predictions for the summer.
Those money-spinners for clubs are certainly off the agenda now. They may return later this year but it is difficult to see how they can function to anything like the same level. How can clubs ask club members or local businesses to financially support the club when many may still be struggling to support their families?
Businesses everywhere have been so decimated that many club sponsors will be out of business the next time their local club teams play matches, with that sponsor’s name still on the front of the jersey.
Most clubs will still be loyal to that sponsor, even if they can no longer financially support the club. The flip side is that clubs will also have no other choice but to wear those jerseys — because they won’t be able to afford a new set.
Moreover, they will struggle to attract a new sponsor to replace any departing main sponsor.
Along with a main sponsor, clubs also have additional smaller sponsors to help the club to stay afloat. Many of those business owners usually have sons or daughters involved, where they buy a set of gear-bags or training tops for a particular underage team, or they row in with extra funding to help out the senior club. That money will not be there now.
Running clubs is not cheap. On average, it could cost in the region of €100,000 to run a dual club in a particular season.
The longer a season goes on, and the more successful the club is, the bigger the expenses sheet.
Costs are never long piling up; sliotars, footballs, gear, physiotherapy, medical bills, maintenance, light and heat, spiking or sanding pitches.
Those costs will soon return when the action returns but clubs will not have the same pot of money to draw on, as they normally would have prior to the start of a new season.
Club lotto’s aren’t running. Club shops, especially those selling kids gear, would normally be booming in March as underage teams kickstart their season. Clubs with bar licences have no customers.
Everyone has to be cut some slack.
GAA clubs in the 26 counties have been told they can avail of deferrals on their rates. In Ulster, rates are being waived for March, April, and May and will be reduced by 25% for the remainder of 2020.
The GAA have already agreed to delay the collection of insurance from clubs during the current crisis. Banks will have to grant moratoriums to clubs who owe them money, while loan payments due to higher GAA bodies are to be assessed on an individual basis.
It will be a different time whenever club activity can resume again. The challenges will be huge but, for now, those concerns can wait.
All anybody wants is for the gates to be swung open again, and for life to become more vigorous and more visceral than ever before.
Everyone hopes that the pitches will be soon full, and that they will be singing with kids’ voices.
And that the air will be full of hope and promise again soon.