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MacKenna On Monday: Mayo Debacle A Combination Of Genuine Idiocy & Complete Incompetence

For those of us who’ve realised The Underdogs has long since passed its sell-by date, there was no need to tune into this year’s version of the reality TV show. Yet if inevitability had taken the place of anything interesting, there was still one moment of insight that was missed in absentia.

At half-time in the MacHale Park outing, Mayo didn’t so much as highlight their own bumbling ineptitude, instead, they actually increased it via such a highlighting. From the Tannoy, ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Shoe the Donkey’ rang out, poking fun at the many thousands present and future funds they may have just cost themselves. Worse again, this in the same stadium where the roof has poles in place to hold it up and where stone slabs count as all-seating, and for this abomination debt repayments are coming in at over €30,000 a month for years to come.

Off the field, it’s as if they’re the inverse of what they’ve been on it across much of the decade.

james horan

For quite some time it’s been easy to have a go at their board from chairman Mike Connelly to many of those around him. They’ve made it that easy. From managerial appointments to the money from JP McManus for each and every club not making its way to each and every club in their jurisdiction. Yet that was small beer next to what we were told was coming.

All year a person close to London investor and Mayo backer Tim O’Leary would warn me to watch this space in regular texts, although even they were taken aback by how badly the board have handled what they created. Indeed it’s not long since O’Leary’s Mayo Foundation put up on their Instagram that their email account had been blocked by those they were trying to raise cash for.

Why would you bother? Never put them first if you always come last.

That may be the biggest takeaway and will hurt Mayo more than they seem to realise.

In fact, it reminded of a guy on the kerb looking for change on Thomas Street, and when handed a fiver he looked up and had a go. “Do you’ve no more? That won’t even cover a couple of cans.”

dublin mayo 12With these debacles, it’s always worth breaking it down and considering the mindset, the choices and the actions of those behind decisions. For instance, when dealing with the need for assurances around how hundreds of thousands were to be spent – with O’Leary requesting it doesn’t go to servicing debts – Mayo’s board couldn’t put together a formal reply. This happened twice, and when that and so much more caused him to speak out as they were caught out, they flat out lied and said that every club in the county were behind them last week. Did they not realise those that weren’t backing them could leave a meeting and make it clear they weren’t?

It’s a combination of genuine idiocy and complete incompetence.

Anyone who has fundraised in clubs or for counties knows there’s nothing more painstaking and draining than this. It’s tedious and time-consuming, usually played out in wind and rain as you feel like an unwelcome beggar merely to cover the bottom of a bucket. It’s gotten more innovative in places at times, but the idea of six figures being jeopardised, as well as a relationship that involves bog time banquets and bow ties, is completely absurd. Have these people no humility?

Or respect? Or a wider understanding of what had landed in their laps based on complete chance? Mayo were upgraded not only in terms of how much they could bring in, but the surrounds and workload around how they could bring it in, and showed next to no gratitude.

There’s no hot take in that and there’s no redeeming feature either. But there is a bigger picture.

They may be as bad as it gets in the GAA with governance, but they also shine a light on how it works in many places. That’s not to defend Mayo, but it is to condemn the system that creates them for, while the association cling to pseudo-amateurism in playing terms, they cheap out by keeping it in governance terms. The questions around Dublin’s funding are for elsewhere, but there’s a reason their monetary machine runs so smoothly. They have experts in place, even if there’s a chicken-and-egg scenario around others being able to afford those key professionals.

This is where and when the association has to now step in and help out, providing both commercial and financial expertise on a full-time basis in every other county. What might seem costly today will be far less costly than the price of doing nothing and letting this go on.

For Mayo isn’t the flashing light, it’s just one more flashing light. From credit card abuse to queries over how they used their sponsorship, there have been plenty of questions asked in Galway and no answers forthcoming. In Cork, they’ve mortgaged their future too over a stadium where a lack of planning and some worrying contracts saw costs spiral out of control. These have been the marquee millions making headlines, but how much more is dripping down drains?

It’s wrong to simply have a go at administrators in all cases, for not being fit for purpose isn’t about looking to fail. Those in the GAA who run for key positions almost always mean well, it’s just that their skill-set doesn’t have to be – and usually isn’t – about running and growing what essentially is today a medium-sized business. You don’t send a cat out to herd sheep.

That the GAA has evolved so fast in this sphere is a testament to itself for it’s not 40 years yet since Kerry thought outside and smashed their way through the box with Bendix and Adidas and a world tour. Yet last week, talking to AIG representatives, they spoke of their relationship with Dublin and how beneficial and business-like it is. A major global company was basically pleased with how professional their partners were. Tim O’Leary and others aren’t finding that elsewhere though as they are dealing with local politicians whose skill-set often peaks at playing that game.

When he went to board members in Mayo looking for confirmation that his fundraising would be spent on an academy and centre of excellence, how many of those on the receiving end of his communication would have been aware he’d obligations around State-side money collection, and that he’d a duty of care as a charity trustee to ensure and exhibit good governance with transparency and accountability? Very few no doubt, as they saw it in their small-time terms.

Aidan O'Shea

Granted, ignorance cannot always be an excuse. As an example, what caused O’Leary and the Mayo Foundation to fume was the board selling All Ireland final tickets with a value of €950 for auction at a gala dinner, but charging him €5,000. In essence, they were fundraising from him so he could fundraise for them. In typical fashion chairman Connelly said last month that this wasn’t the case, adding that the €5,000 referred to covered the cost of souvenir half-and-half GAA jerseys for the New York trip that O’Leary had received, as well as those All Ireland tickets. As a cop-out, he’d publicly stated that souvenir jerseys given to a donor cost €4,050. And after that they wanted €250,000 handed over to them for a project they couldn’t produce a plan for.

It’s little wonder that Central Council are looking for the county board to appear before them but that’s only a start. Until the GAA act professionally in this area, it’ll get more and more amateur.

That will cost them money. But worse it’ll cost them the big hitters that can make them money.

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Author: Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.