Can Cork GAA afford not to have its own supporters' club?

August 1st, 2016 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Great support: Cork fans pictured cheering on the Rebels in Croke Park.

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It probably won’t surprise many to learn that Cork is the only county in Munster GAA without a supporters’ club. KIERAN McCARTHY touched base with different supporters’ clubs around the country to find out how they operate and how they benefit their county


ONE of the 25 proposals put forward by county coaching officer Kevin O’Donovan in his draft discussion document on stopping the rot in Cork GAA was to establish ‘Friends of Cork GAA’, a supporters’ club, immediately.

‘Given the potential corporate support available throughout the city and the county and the army of supporters for Cork teams, a supporters’ club should be formed immediately, incorporating all Cork supporters whether big or small. Links to ticket packages, the clubs’ draw and various coaching initiatives would present a win-win for all sides,’ O’Donovan wrote – and many around the county nodded their head in agreement.

Numerous counties have supporters’ clubs and Cork, the largest GAA county in their own province, is in the minority by not having one.

In Munster, Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford, Kerry and Clare (separate hurling and football clubs) all have supporters’ clubs who drive fundraising in their counties to help offset the costs of preparing inter-county teams, while venturing further north, Club Tyrone has taken on more responsibility with regards the Tyrone GAA Garvaghey Centre and Academy Tyrone – more on those initiatives later.

Tipperary was the first supporters’ club to be set up, back in 1986 by Babs Keating, to offer financial support to the county senior hurling team and it has grown since then (raising almost €3 million since it was founded), as Tipperary Supporters’ Club PRO John Coman explained.

‘There are a lot of demands on county board finances from underage right up to senior, so the supporters’ club provides an avenue for extra fundraising to provide some extra support for the senior team around things like specialist training weekends or specialist medical attention for players,’ Coman said, before explaining the benefits on offer for fans who become members.

‘Our main fundraiser is our membership. We have more than 2,000 members, they pay €30 per year. For that they are entered into draws for tickets for all the championship matches, they get a membership card and car sticker, there is a discount scheme for certain suppliers and every member gets a weekly email newsletter, and all team announcements for league and championship games are sent out by text message.

‘The membership is the main source of finance but we also hold golf classics, nights at the dogs, other nights out – there have been various other initiatives over the years.’

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When you consider a county the size of Cork, with a population of almost 550,000 and the most GAA clubs in the country, there is huge potential in this county for a supporters’ club to help the county board by raising money for inter-county teams.

Look at Club Déise in Waterford, which recently paid for the senior hurlers to go to Fota Island Resort for four nights for a training camp, and which also hosts a day at Punchestown, a golf classic and other fundraisers. 

At a time when Cork GAA will, thanks to the elephant in the room that’s rising on the banks of the Lee (Páirc Uí Chaoimh, its redevelopment expected to cost over €80 million), feel a knock-on financial effect, all extra money raised would be welcome, and help the county invest in underage coaching and inter-county teams and, maybe, help pay for teams to train at CIT or UCC.

What’s necessary, and key, is a strong working relationship with the county board – it can’t work without that. A county board should still continue to explore its own fundraising schemes, and a supporters’ club can compliment that, so their net takes in a wider area and exhausts all avenues. Again, in a geographically large county like Cork, there is big potential.

Speaking about Tipperary Supporters’ Club’s links with the Tipp county board, John Coman explained: ‘We have a very strong relationship. By rule, the county board treasurer is also treasurer of the supporters’ club. We work very closely with the county board and the team managements, and it’s an agreed programme of support for the teams during the year. The county board has its own fundraising activities and we try to dovetail with that, so we don’t encroach on the same people and that we have different events with a view to maximising support.’

Yes, the financial benefits are the headliner-grabber, but we can’t forget that a supporters’ club also helps the fans. They get the satisfaction of helping their county and, for example, in return, there is organised transport for games. Kerry Supporters’ Club PRO Martin Leane explains.

‘One of the big benefits is that it allows supporters the chance to travel to games, especially the long away trips to the north, and it’s a boost for the players too when they see two or three coaches full of fans arrive in Donegal or Down,’ Leane said.

‘Our members pay a €10 fee at the start of the year, and among the benefits of that is, in a season where Kerry make it to an All-Ireland final, they are entered in a draw for tickets.’

Again, for Cork where the lack of travelling support for the county footballers is almost a running joke amongst other counties, to have arranged transport for fans to away matches, especially in the league, would be a welcome addition.

The Kerry GAA Supporters’ Club, set up in 1987 by then county board chairman Sean Kelly, also hosts an annual dinner dance and awards night where members of the inter-county teams attend. Again, this seems like a no-brainer here in Cork, a chance for supporters to meet their inter-county stars.

The Kerry GAA Supporters’ Club doesn’t step on the toes of the county board in Kerry, who for example raised over €1 million from a fundraising trip in New York, Chicago and Boston last year to go towards its Centre of Excellence.

Leane emphasised ‘an excellent relationship with the Kerry Bounty Board’ and that a supporters’ club won’t work if it’s on a different wavelength to its county board. There’s a lesson there. There is also a separate Kerry Supporters’ Club in Dublin to accommodate the large Kingdom population in the capital.

Now, let’s look at the model in Tyrone where, since it was founded in 1995, Club Tyrone, not a supporters’ club like many of the others, has played a massive role in the promotion of Tyrone GAA. A sub-committee of the Tyrone County Board, Club Tyrone is strictly for fund-raising, and it depends on supporters and people associated with Tyrone GAA to give money to the cause.

In last year’s annual report, Club Tyrone contributed £351,058 in 2015 to Tyrone GAA – ‘a level of commitment that isn’t matched anywhere else,’ says Club Tyrone Chairman Hugh McAleer.

In total, Club Tyrone has raised almost £4.5 million since it was founded, and a huge chunk of that money went towards the Garvaghey Centre – a £6.7 million centre of excellence.

Club Tyrone Secretary Damien Harvey explains how the club has played such a key role in the county’s GAA growth and development.

‘We ask members to give us £500 for the year, we initially set out to get 100 people to do that, but we now have almost 500 involved in this every year. It’s a huge boost for Tyrone GAA,’ Harvey said. 

‘For the last few years a lot of that money would have been ring-fenced to go towards Garvaghey so it strictly wasn’t going towards the county teams. It allowed the ordinary county board to concentrate on funding the county teams while we funded Garvaghey, which is a massive asset to the county. 

‘We couldn’t have even looked at building Garvaghey without the support of Club Tyrone members. For the Garvaghey scheme, for members we felt could afford it, we asked to give us £1,000 per year over five years – all the money would go towards Garvaghey. The initial target was to get 100 people to sign up, but we ended up with 290 people giving us £1,000 per year over five years.’

Recently, Club Tyrone has funded Academy Tyrone, which is the county’s rebrand of its development squads – run by ex-county players, like Colin Holmes and Conor Gormley – where, for example, all teams play in black jerseys, funded by Club Tyrone, instead of the county’s traditional white Tyrone colour. You have to earn the right to wear the county jersey, and you get that if you advance to being a county minor.

‘The commonality of the cause is to make Tyrone GAA better,’ says Harvey, and that’s a similar goal shared by all supporters’ clubs across the county. And it’s also a feeling shared by Cork GAA fans.

The positives of setting up a supporters’ club far outweigh any concerns and the question must be – can Cork GAA afford not to have its own supporters’ club?





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