THE annual Cork GAA Convention takes place this Sunday, which offers club representatives the chance to reflect on the year gone, discuss the broader GAA scene, and it will also feature the draws for the 2023 championships.
Cork is a beast of a GAA county, with 3,106 teams registered in 2022, which is broken into 629 adult sides and 2,477 underage (U17 down).
Cork GAA is a powerful brand and has one of the most vibrant club championships in the country following the reform that introduced group stages and streamlined grades. That means Cork GAA's end-of-year accounts show club gate receipts topping €1.5m and an overall surplus totalling €679,590.
The Rebels’ Bounty draw brought in €381,578, a 62% improvement on 2021.
However, bank debt arising from upgrading Páirc Uí Chaoimh stands at €21,056,000 as of the end of September, with annual loan repayments of €1.1m. The Cork County Board also owe Croke Park €7,763,722.
With that massive debt looming large, the Páirc hosted the recent Munster-South Africa rugby game and Ed Sheeran, Elton John and Westlife concerts, even when it meant Cork teams had to play championship elsewhere. As a result, the Páirc Uí Chaoimh 2022 accounts include a turnover of €6,085,632.
However, there's still an end-of-year operating loss of €189,170 when cost of sales, administration expenses and depreciation are factored in. That will alarm Cork GAA club members, as impressive as the Páirc is as a top-class sporting arena.
Cork CEO Kevin O'Donovan admitted in his annual report: “Páirc Uí Chaoimh continues to face a challenging future.
“Despite healthy profits this year, the legacy debt from the stadium redevelopment continues to rest well above the €30m mark. Predictions that the stadium would open debt-free now seem like a distant memory and all efforts must be made to clear the shortfall by those now charged with its management.
"Therefore, an action plan continues to be implemented in conjunction with all associates and we will be calling on members to support all commercial aspects under the Cork GAA umbrella.
"The sooner the stadium is placed on a firm financial footing, the sooner we can move on to future projects, for example, the much-required training centre for our teams."
The switch of club minor from U18 to U17 at the outset of the 2021 season, following a similar move at inter-county three years before, was derided before it was forced through and has been widely slated since. It's been a hot topic in every GAA club in Cork for some time now.
Kevin O'Donovan summed up the situation succinctly in his convention report.
"Without doubt, the most pressing matter facing the county is in finding a solution to the issue of ages grades for the player cohort aged 17 to 20. Unfortunately, a lack of decisiveness on this complex matter has led to further confusion. If we are to put the needs of our young players first, there is no doubt that minor at both club and county level should be returned to U18 with full decoupling. The challenges faced by the U19 competitions in 2022 showed clear evidence that the overlapping of adult and underage games involving the same players is unworkable."
The only positive from U17 was it 'decoupled' minor from adult competitions. The Cork Executive position is to keep that element even after reverting to U18, with O'Donovan explaining why in relation to a small club like his own in Kilmeen-Kilbree or recent dual Premier 1 winners Douglas.
"As a member of a club that failed to field at U17, U19 or U21 level in 2022 due to a lack of numbers caused by the effects of rural depopulation, the matter of participation is of particular interest," writes O'Donovan. "For clubs such as my own, facing uncertainty in terms of our very existence, cherry-picking the chosen 18-year-olds for our adult teams is the road to ruin. We must bring them all through.
"Claims of decoupling damaging the future prospects of the small club simply ring hollow. In fact, as well as reducing dropout, it will increase the chances of players in their 20s and 30s playing for longer with their clubs.
"Meanwhile, let’s spare a thought for the 18-year-old from the urban centre. Picture the dual-winning Douglas U17 team of 2022. How many of those boys, most of them now in fifth year in school are ready to play at adult level in 2023? And now we must tell them that their underage career is over.
"And let’s spare a thought for their colleagues on the second string Douglas U17 team. Where do they go?
"One simply begs our clubs to act in the interests of our young players and the long-term viability of our clubs. This can be done by supporting the relevant motion put forward on behalf of the County Committee at Convention. U18 and U20 at club and County, with full decoupling at U18."
It cost Cork €400,000 more than last year to run its inter-county teams, at a price tag of €1,614,766.
It was a pretty disappointing year overall though, with the minor footballers' Munster title the only trophy of note captured, with the senior footballers unable to match up to Kerry and Dublin while the hurlers exited at the quarter-final stage against Galway.
There was no shortage of controversy, including the 'Páirc Uí Rinn or nowhere' issue before Cork, eventually, hosted Kerry in their second stadium and Kieran Kingston's departure after his three-year term concluded.
Kevin O'Donovan touched on those in his convention report: "One disappointing aspect which was common to both the 'Páirc Uí Rinn or nowhere' saga and the aftermath of the hurlers’ defeat to Galway were the false rumours peddled regarding the position of the County Officers on various matters. Unfortunately, such mischief-making was clearly designed to create a divide between players and the Board and certainly had no motive in the betterment of Cork hurling or football."