Cork CEO: Positives outweight the negatives on Sports Direct deal

'Out of this deal, we’re getting funds to invest in Gaelic games in Cork, which ends up with kids playing hurling and football...'
Cork CEO: Positives outweight the negatives on Sports Direct deal

Cork GAA hurling captain, Patrick Horgan, pictured following the announcement of Sports Direct’s new five-year sponsorship deal with Cork GAA. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

CORK County Board secretary Kevin O’Donovan accepts that there are misgivings surrounding the recent sponsorship agreement with Sports Direct, but he feels that the positives of such a deal outweigh the negatives.

In January, it was revealed that Sports Direct would be paying Cork €2m over five years, replacing Chill Insurance. Much criticism related to Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley and the treatment of employees.

However, O’Donovan feels that the importance of such a deal in the current climate – as well as the success of the new Rebels’ Bounty draw – have to be considered, while pointing to the fact that Sports Direct has stores in Blackpool, Ballincollig, Bandon, Mallow and Midleton.

“Context is everything,” he says.

“If you’re doing commercial deals in the middle of Covid and having Rebels’ Bounty sending over a million back to clubs, I’d be saying, ‘Let’s look at the broad context here.’ 

“I do accept that our supporters will have criticisms of a lot of things we do and I’ll accept the criticisms of Rebels’ Bounty. We took it on the pitch, we solved that; we took it on the county championships, we think we might have solved that one and we’ll take it on Sports Direct.

People will have misgivings but we look very much on Sports Direct as providing employment in Ireland. We’re in a relationship with Sports Direct Ireland.” 

In an interview with The Echo, O’Donovan – appointed secretary in late 2018, replacing Frank Murphy – acknowledges that various board initiatives, like Rebels’ Bounty, can meet early opposition before proving successful.

The success of Páirc Uí Chaoimh is something he also believes in, and cautions against combining various criticisms of Cork GAA together.

“We’ll always accept criticism from our members but, when it gets a little bit unbalanced, people like to conflate all of our criticisms together,” he says.

“People love to pull the five most controversial topics in Cork GAA together and derive a narrative from that. Sometimes, I think that people don’t want to look at an issue on its own – they want to link it to stadium debt or past officers of the board, they want to roll it up into this big epic tale when it’s not.

“It’s just us looking at commercial opportunities and weighing up the pros and cons. Out of this deal, we’re getting funds to invest in Gaelic games in Cork, which ends up with kids playing hurling and football in our fields. I would say what about that context rather than what the latest thing is on Cork GAA’s rap sheet.”

See Tuesday's Echo for more.

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