THERE’S a new sheriff in town and in keeping with the old westerns’ theme, he’s got his eyes on the bank.
But, instead of looking out for some mean hombres intent on looting the safe’s contents, the badge holder is doing the exact opposite.
Cork-born Larry McCarthy took over the hot seat of the country’s most important sporting organisation at the weekend at a time of extreme world upheaval.
Instead of being cash-rich, the GAA, like the rest of the globe, is feeling the brunt of the downward economic spiral.
There’s simply nothing in the vaults to attract money-hungry gringos.
“Just look at the cupboard, it’s kind of bare, so we have to cut out cloth to suit our measure,” McCarthy said at his weekend’s inauguration.
This time last year the then president-elect and the first overseas incumbent looked on aghast at the 2019 inter-county expenses of some €30m.
“It’s not sustainable,” he remarked. Later at the annual Connacht convention, McCarthy went further by saying ‘if we’re spending €30m I’d rather see it spent on the majority and not the minority’.
His predecessor, John Horan, also touched on the subject in his farewell address, welcoming the slowing of the ‘runaway train that had become the cost of preparing inter-county teams’.
McCarthy will oversee negotiations with the Gaelic Players Association this season to agree on a separate players’ charter dealing with expenses incurred by players preparing for inter-county games.
The change in dynamic will be further amplified with the switching of the guard in the GPA, too, following former Dublin footballer Paul Flynn’s decision to step down from the chief executive role.
Players’ expenses are just one piece of the financial jigsaw, however, as Horan explained about the enormous size of management teams these days.
“The circus of county managers having nearly as many back-room team members as playing members was addressed.”
The 2021 GAA ship is going to be very tight right across the board and stretching beyond inter-county teams.
“I think we’ve begun to manage that... by the number of training sessions we’ve suggested,” said McCarthy.
Teams can have a maximum of 32 players for three sessions a week and money will be reimbursed from a central Croke Park fund.
And the new president believes players’ general wellbeing will improve as a result.
“It cuts down on the ludicrous number of hours that the ESRI report said they were engaging in Gaelic games, 31-32 hours a week. That’s not sustainable.
“By putting these, what might be considered cost-cutting measures in place, we’re giving players a better chance to play, prepare themselves and have some something else outside their inter-county activities.”
It was while watching a Cork club game from his New York base last summer that McCarthy’s views on the need for a split season were cemented.
“It was the Barrs-Glen match on GAAGo. Aside from Patrick Horgan, who would be flicking balls right, left and centre anyway, other players were trying the same thing.
“They were obviously enjoying playing summer hurling, when they would normally have played a match like that in less than prime weather conditions in October-November and just not had the same enjoyment.”
A motion slicing the season in two with inter-county first is now in rule, meaning club players have from August on to play championship, starting next year.
“Inadvertently, we learned that the clubs playing in the middle of the summer is the thing to do. We have recalibrated the calendar accordingly and adopted the split-season as the model going forward.
Now, clubs have the hard ground to be playing on at the best time of the year and on pitches in their best condition.
“I think the inter-county lads going back to their clubs and playing with them for an extended period was something they also thoroughly enjoyed.
“They once again felt like full members of their club and team and were no longer trying to save themselves for someone else.”